Wednesday, December 1, 2010

title validation - how not to write a title

We cleverly wrote our blog post title in all lowercase to highlight the fact that our PaperRater service now includes title validation. 
[loud clapping] 

What does this mean?

In the past, anyone could submit a paper with a terrible title -- too short, too long, not properly capitalized, etc. And yet there would be no word of advice from us.  Today, all this has changed, so beware if you plan on submitting papers with shoddy titles.  We've got our eye on you!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Automated Grading has Arrived

Automated grading of papers has been one of the most requested features and certainly the one that has had our engineers working the most hours.  Consider the difficulty in attempting to grade a paper when...

1) You do not know the assignment topic
2) You do not know the recommended length
3) You are a computer with limited knowledge of the meaning of words

Nevertheless, we've found the Auto Grader to be nearly as accurate as human graders for most papers.  We do note that this grade should be considered a partial grade as it incorporates grammar correction, spelling, word choice, and style, but not the author's arguments, logic, organization, and ideas.  The latter will still need to be examined by a human.


We do hope some day to provide information into the technical side of this service.  However, for now we are busy adding more features that we hope you will love.  If you would like to suggest a feature, please click here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New: Speedy Plagiarism Checker

Plagiarism detection has been included in the Paper Rater service from Day 1, but we recognize that some users would like to use the plagiarism checker by itself -- separate from the automated proofreading.  So, yesterday we quietly launched the standalone Plagiarism Checker as our response.  This tool quickly delivers an originality report without the other information provided by the grammar checker tool.

Why would someone want ONLY plagiarism detection?

 Most students prefer to run a complete check of their papers including plagiarism, grammar, spelling, word choice, and style.  However, teachers are often interested in checking only the originality of the document.  The snappy response offered by the Plagiarism Checker gives them exactly what they need.


Comments are welcome...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Improved Plagiarism Detection

We are pleased to announce that significant progress has been made on our most requested feature -- improved plagiarism detection.  Our originality detection service now utilizes improved matching and displays a list of matching sources (if any are found).  This will allow users to see which websites contain information that matches the content from their submitted paper.

How Does Your Plagiarism Detection Work?
We get this question a lot.  First, let me say that papers submitted to our service are NOT used as part of future originality checks.  Sites like TurnItIn collect and store documents as part of their plagiarism detection service.  Instead, Paper Rater searches the Internet to find documents that match the paper that you submitted to us for review.  If the paper that you submit already exists publicly on the Internet, then the Paper Rater plagiarism detection will most likely find it.  And, due to our recent update, any matches will be accompanied by links to the sources, so that you can see for yourself the page(s) that triggered the low originality score.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shorter Text Submissions

Prior to now, Paper Rater has considered it bad policy to allow shorter documents to be processed.  This is due to the fact that the tips you receive after submitting your paper are the result of statistical analysis of the text.  Many of these analyses require a large enough sample size (in words) to truly be effective.

Nevertheless, our users told us (more than once) that we should be allowing shorter pieces of text to be submitted.  We are listening.  As of this writing PaperRater.com will process pieces of text under 500 characters similarly to larger text with the following caveats:
  • Originality detection will be disabled
  • Vocabulary analysis will be disabled
  • Transitional phrases will not be analyzed
  • Raw statistics will not be displayed
Spelling, free grammar correction, and word choice tips will still be given.

Thanks for the valuable feedback!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Clichés

As stated in the General Grammar Tips blog, you should avoid slang terminology in your writing. By this, I mean avoid clichés and any sayings that can have more than one meaning.

It can be difficult to locate sayings in your own paper, which is why it is important to have someone else proofread your paper before you turn it in. A fresh look at the paper will be helpful in catching common mistakes and the use of clichés.


A cliché is defined as a trite or obvious remark. This definition can be misleading because the remarks are not always obvious. Sometimes there are sayings that we say to our friends and families so often that they seem like common sense. However, if you were to say it to a stranger or someone from a different country, it may not make complete sense.



Avoid slang terminology. Imagine writing a paper for someone from a different country. That person may not be familiar with slang terms that are used in conversational language.

Example 1: Mark knew how hard it was to get clean after being addicted to drugs for 5 years.

Example 2: Julie was a typical girl next door, and everyone loved being around her.

Example 3: My grandfather was out there, so we didn’t stay very long, in case he was going to do something crazy.

Get clean should have been exchanged with become sober so that it was clear for the reader.

Instead of using girl next door to describe Julie, her personality traits should have been listed or defined. Not everyone understands what this slang term means, and people could have different definitions for it. Also, using the phrase out there to describe someone that is mentally unstable would be confusing for a reader that was unfamiliar with this terminology. Be sure to make your writing more formal to the point that it could be translated into another language and still be understood.



Take into consideration that clichés are commonly used because they are so well at describing situations. It can be difficult to come up with a different word or phrase to get your description across because you're so used to using the clichés. That's why it is important to be very close to your thesaurus and have it handy when you're going over your first draft to eliminate the clichés.

Example 1: When it rains, it pours, which is why you have to be prepared for difficult times in life.

Example 2: It's not rocket science to figure out that our country's leaders are struggling to manage the economy.

Example 3: Since our camera broke, the bottom line is this: We need to hire a professional photographer because when life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade.

These examples make it clear that overusing clichés in writing can be tiresome for the reader, and they won't make your essay stand out from the rest. Professors will be impressed when they read a paper that doesn't use clichés, especially when the authors goes the extra mile to think outside the box and come up with new descriptions as alternatives to these obvious remarks.



Visit the following websites for more help on this topic:
  1. University of Richmond Writing Center gives an excellent example and helpful tips on how to avoid clichés in writing.


  • About.com gives an extensive list of common clichés to help you pick them out in your writing.
  • Use our free online grammar checker


  • Ezine Articles tackles clichés in creative writing. They mention how to use clichés in dialogue and how to write your first draft of a creative piece.
  • Monday, May 17, 2010

    Commonly Misspelled Words

    There are some words that sound very similar but have very different meanings. When reading papers, I sometimes find the wrong word used in a sentence over and over again, and it is obvious that the writer chose not to find out the correct spelling.


    If you are unsure about which word to use, consult a dictionary, and always use our automatic spellchecker to find the mistakes. By misspelling these words, you could change the meaning of your sentence. Use this post as a guide to remember which spelling goes with which meaning.



    1. Lead/Led. Probably, the most troubling for me to see is the mistake between the words lead and led. So, I will start with these by giving you three different examples.

    Example 1: I will lead the students to the correct classroom on the first day of school.

    Example 2: Robert led the marching band in the parade last Saturday.

    Example 3: Some of the lead pipes, used as drains for the ancient Roman baths, are still in service today.

    The problem is that writers often confuse the 82nd element on the periodic table (lead) with the past-tense verb (led), because they sound the same. Lead can be either a present-tense verb or a metallic element, but only led can be used as a past-tense verb.



    2. Their/There/They’re. These words are usually always brought to attention when the subject is commonly misspelled words. However, it is inevitable that their, there, and they’re will each be consistently misused throughout writing assignments. Correct spelling is one of the marks of a truly excellent paper, so make it a point to use the right word when you are writing.

    Their = possessive pronoun
    Example 1: Their private business was booming in sales last month.

    There = in or at that place
    Example 2: There are many different ways to brainstorm.

    They’re = a contraction of they are
    Example 3: They’re going to the movies tonight.

    The best way to catch these words being used incorrectly is to re-read the sentence slowly to capture the true meaning of the word. Remember these definitions to help you next time you are determining between their, there, and they’re. Trust me, professors are impressed when the correct spelling is used, but they are highly disappointed when the words are used incorrectly.



    3. Affect/Effect. These words are easy to remember once you learn which parts of speech they are.

    Affect = verb, to influence
    Example 1: Rising tuition rates might affect the number of college graduates in the upcoming years.

    Effect = noun, result or consequence
    Example 2: I am interested to know the effect that rising tuition rates have had on the number of college graduates in the U.S.

    Note: Effect can be used as a verb, meaning to bring about or to accomplish. However, I recommend using a different word or phrase and only using effect as a noun. If you choose to use this word as a verb, here is an example of how it is properly used.

    Example: Many charity organizations have effected changes in relief efforts since the earthquake in Haiti.

    Instead of using effected, I would recommend the following sentence.

    Example: Many charity organizations have brought about changes in relief efforts since the earthquake in Haiti.

    Remembering that affect is always a verb and effect is always a noun is a good method to keep from confusing the two words.



    4. Conscious/Conscience/Cautious. These three words are hard to say, and it’s even harder to remember which spelling goes with which meaning. I try to remember that conscience has the word science in it, which helps me remember that it has to do with your mind and your internal reasoning to do good or bad. Cautious looks a lot like caution which reminds me that it means to be careful.

    Conscious = awake or perceiving
    Example: I regained consciousness shortly after falling and hitting my head on the pavement. I was unconscious for 2 minutes.

    Conscience = sense of obligation to be good
    Example: Frank cheated on the test last week, but Cameron couldn’t because his conscience wouldn’t let him.

    Cautious = careful
    Example: Jane is very cautious when she lets her daughter play at the park.




    5. Then/Than. These two words are extremely similar and are mixed up too frequently. The best way to tackle this confusion is to memorize the meanings of these two words. Here are some examples to help clarify their meanings.

    Than is always used in a sentence with a comparison, a preference, or a quantity beyond a specified amount. Anytime you are comparing two objects, use than.

    Example 1: I would rather see Iron Man 2 than any other movie at the theatre.

    Example 2: Danielle always received better grades in Chemistry than I did.

    Example 3: The recipe calls for less salt than I thought.

    Then describes a time in space or in order.

    Example 1: The sales department will have a meeting on Monday. Then, a new incentive program will be in place.

    Example 2: Years ago, we would ride our bikes by the lake. Do you remember back then?

    Logically, then represents a conclusion. Whenever you use the word if, you should always use then to represent the conclusion.

    Example 3: If Thomas shows up to the game, then he will be the pitcher.



    6. Your/You’re. You're is a contraction. It is the combination of you and are. We say it all the time, but when it's written, it's usually spelled incorrectly. Your is an adjective describing a noun (Whose dog is it? It's your dog, not you're dog).

    Example: Your dog just ate my food, and now you're going to have to buy another meal for me.

    If you're ever unsure of which spelling is correct, try saying the sentence using you are in place of the word each time. If it fits, then use the contraction you're. If not, use the adjective your.

    Example: You are dog just ate my food, and now you are going to have to buy another meal for me.

    It doesn't fit in the first clause (so we use your), but it does fit the second time (so we use you’re).



    7. Accept/Except. Read the following sentence for clarification about these two spellings.

    Example: Everyone in the room accepted the fact that there would be no air conditioning except Connie, who started crying.

    Accept = to receive or to agree
    Except = all but, other than

    Remember that the word exception means that something or someone has been exempt from the average group. This helps me when I’m determining between accept and except, because the latter singles out an object.



    These words (that sound alike but are spelled differently) are called homophones. For more examples, visit this site. At least be aware of possibly confusing some of these words with the wrong meaning. Always use a dictionary if you are unsure of the spelling, and double-check your work with our free spellchecker that is excellent at catching these errors.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Subject/Verb Agreement

    An often overlooked, common mistake is that of incorrect subject and verb agreement. In order to understand how these two parts correlate, we need to know how to find them in a sentence.


    The subject is the main topic of the sentence. Sometimes the easiest way to figure the subject out is to find the verb and then ask what noun correlates with it.

    Example: Gary drove the car to the gas station.

    If you find the verb (drove) and then ask “Who drove the car?” then you will find the subject (Gary). There can be more than one noun involved in a subject.

    Example: Gary and his sister went to the gas station.

    Went is the verb and Gary and his sister is the subject. Note: There aren’t two subjects in this sentence, but there are two nouns that make up the subject. This is called a compound subject.



    In a compound sentence, finding the subject can be more tricky, because there can be more than one. Remember, a compound sentence is comprised of two independent clauses that are combined with a conjunction.

    Example: Gary went to the gas station, and his sister stayed home.



    Complex sentences can be even trickier because they are generally longer and contain both dependent and independent clauses. Great essays will have complex sentences, so it is important to understand how to find a subject in these sentences.

    Example: Maria and I went to the library so that we could write our papers, which were assigned the day before.

    The last part of the sentence is a dependent clause used to describe the noun papers, but should not be confused with the subject/verb agreement.



    Sometimes, there will be phrases that come between the subject and the verb. It is important to be aware of these phrases so that you do not confuse them with the noun that should agree with the verb.

    Example: The man that lives in the house with the green shutters is outside right now.

    In this example, lives in the house with the green shutters is just used to describe the subject but should not be confused with the verb.

    If you can find the subject, then you will be able to make sure that the verb agrees with it, and that is very important if you want to have a grammatically correct essay. Here are some guidelines to follow when choosing the correct verb for your subject.



    1. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, use a singular verb. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by and, use a plural verb.

    Example 1: Sally or Kevin has the secret password.

    Example 2: Sally and Kevin have the secret password.



    2. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is closest to the verb.

    Example 1: Sally or the other employees have the secret password.

    Example 2: The other employees or Sally has the secret password.



    3. The following subjects should be used with a singular verb.


    Each
    Each one
    Either
    Neither
    Everyone
    Everybody
    Anybody
    Anyone
    Nobody
    Somebody
    Someone
    No one



    4. When a sentence begins with There or There are, then the subject follows the verb.
    Example 1: There are hundreds of birds on the beach this morning.

    Example 2: There is a bird on my windowsill this morning.



    5. Collective nouns that imply more than one person are considered singular and should be used with a singular verb.


    Team
    Committee
    Group
    Family
    Squad



    For an exercise to improve your subject/verb agreement skills, visit this site.

    Of course, we also recommend using our automated online proofreader for improving your writing.

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    Writer's Block

    Understand that writing is not like mathematics. You won’t be able to sit down, figure the problem out, and move on with your day. It is a process that can take days and even weeks to complete (depending on the class and the assignment). Most importantly, allow yourself plenty of time to spend on writing your paper. Keep track of when it’s due, and begin as early as you possibly can. The more breaks you take, the less likely it is that you will miss a mistake and the better your paper will be. Tackling writer’s block is a skill that is also worth your time and effort. Telling yourself that you still have a week to do it (and ultimately not taking the time to work through your writer’s block) will result in last minute cramming and probably not a very good essay.



    1. One of the most common causes of writer’s block is the lack of knowledge about the topic that you have been assigned. The first step to deal with this issue is to do some research! Even if the assignment is not to write a research paper, doing research and reading about the topic that you are writing about will help give you confidence to write a clear and informative essay.

    I don’t know much about insects. If I were assigned an essay in my biology class about the life of ants, I would have a major case of writer’s block. It would be necessary for me to learn about them and their everyday activities in order for me to even know what to begin writing. So, if your problem is unfamiliarity of the assigned topic, visit Google (or your preferred search engine) and spend a few minutes learning about it. Take notes while you’re reading, and then use those notes as an outline for your essay. You can then decide what is worth mentioning and what parts of your research are irrelevant to the paper.



    2. Read someone else’s paper on the same topic. Sometimes reading the views of someone else will help you understand how you feel about a certain issue (whether you agree or disagree). Talking to a friend or family member can also be a great way to grab ideas for your writing. Sometimes it’s easy to think of things in a conversational form rather than with pen and paper. The most important thing to remember is not to copy anyone else’s work. If you consult another paper for ideas, come up with your own original paper to submit in class. Plagiarism is never tolerable.



    3. Another possible cure to writer’s block is to detach your mind from the format of the paper. Sometimes it is best to just begin writing, without worrying about spelling, grammar check, and punctuation. After your thoughts are down on paper, you can go back and correct your mistakes. It is much easier to proofread a paper that is too long (because you can omit words or phrases that don’t make sense) than to try to come up with a perfect, logical essay on the first try.

    Most likely, when you begin writing, ideas will flow one after another. It is best to write them down as soon as they come to you (even if you are in the middle of sentence) because by the time you finish the sentence you may forget the new idea that you wanted to add.



    4. Make short-term goals for yourself to help you get the paper finished, especially if it is on a subject that doesn’t necessarily strike your interest. We, as students, will inevitably be assigned writing assignments that aren’t particularly exciting for us. Of course, you will have to write papers in subjects which interest you, but writer’s block will play more of a role in classes that don’t excite you. Unfortunately, you will still be required to turn something in to be graded.

    When boredom is the cause of your writer’s block, setting goals can help you overcome the lack of motivation. We often will set time out of our day to begin writing the paper, and then tell ourselves that we have to do something else before we want to start writing. After making a sandwich, calling a friend, and updating our Facebook statuses, we end up wasting an hour or two and ultimately aren’t productive at all. Instead of immediately becoming distracted, make a personal goal to finish three or four paragraphs (or even one page) of work before you let yourself leave the area. Even if it isn’t the best thing you’ve ever written, at least you will have something accomplished when you return to finish the paper. Basically, you want to limit all possible distractions, so you should reward yourself after you write a certain amount of paragraphs with 30 minutes of doing something that you enjoy.



    Writing should be a growing skill for you. There is no right or wrong way to write a paper; there are only guidelines to help you write effectively. It is certainly possible to sit down at your computer, type a paper, and have it finished when you stand up two hours later. However, if you want an essay that makes sense, is free of grammatical mistakes, and will be more likely to get a good grade, then you need to spend more than one sitting on writing it. Try one or more of these techniques the next time you have writer’s block and see if they make the writing process a little easier for you!

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    Titles

    One of the most important parts of any essay is the title. It is generally the first thing an audience will notice about the paper. Therefore, it usually determines whether or not someone will be interested in reading what you have written. Titles do not always have to be catchy. For instance, the main purpose of the title in a research paper is to inform the reader what the paper is about, so that they don’t waste their time reading something that is irrelevant to their research. However, in more informal writing styles, catchy titles can attract a wider audience. This entry will give you tips on how to come up with a good title for the type of paper you’re writing, and hopefully clear up some common questions regarding titles.



    Capitalizing Words in a Title

    I’ll admit that I’ve often struggled to remember which words to capitalize in a title. Over the years, I’ve come to find that it’s a lot easier than you might think to remember the rules.

    1. Always capitalize the first and last words in your title. Regardless of what the rules below say about specific parts of speech that should not be capitalized, capitalize them if they are the first or last words in your title.



    2. These parts of speech should always be capitalized in a title.


    nouns
    pronouns
    verbs
    adverbs
    adjectives


    For help on understanding the parts of speech, visit this site.



    3. Conjunctions and prepositions are generally never capitalized, unless they are 5 or more letters in length. However, it is completely optional whether or not you want to capitalize them even when they are 5 letters or more, as both ways are accepted. I choose never to capitalize these parts of speech so that I don’t confuse myself.

    Like with other optional rules in grammar, the key is to remain consistent. If you capitalize beneath in your first heading, and then leave against lowercase in another heading, your paper will look unorganized and inconsistent.

    Example 1:
    Heading 1: Mouse Remains Beneath the Table
    Heading 2: Bear Leans Against a Tree

    Incorrect:
    Heading 1: Mouse Remains Beneath the Table
    Heading 2: Bear Leans against a Tree



    4. Never capitalize articles (the, a, an) unless they are part of a proper noun (or at the beginning or end of your title).

    Example: Fans Waited for the Arrival of The Beatles

    As you can see, the first article is not capitalized, while the second one is. The Beatles is the name of the band; therefore, the should be capitalized in the title.



    5. There is no particular rule about the use of numbers within titles. My recommendation would be to spell out numbers that are less than 20 and capitalize them. It is really only a matter of preference, so remain consistent.



    Informal Titles

    I’ve talked about informal writing styles in different blog posts. They differ greatly from research papers and formal essays. For that reason, their titles are going to be much different as well. Articles, poems, creative essays and personal narratives should have clever titles that would make someone interested in reading the paper.

    Assignment: Write about what you did last Christmas.

    Example 1: Family Trip to New York for Christmas

    Example 2: Building Snowmen by Skyscrapers: Christmas with the Coles

    The first example is an acceptable title, but it doesn’t really grab the attention of the reader. It clarifies what the paper is about, but a good title will do more than that. As shown in the second example, describing one specific event is a good way to grab a reader’s attention.

    Instead of making the title broadly about a family trip, it is better to narrow it down to one event that happened on the trip. This event could be funny, sad, and/or meaningful. The main purpose is to have a title that you wouldn’t find on any other paper. You want it to be unique enough that it stands out from the rest. Limit the title to 10 words or less, and don’t make it a complete sentence.

    Incorrect: The Cole Family Traveled to New York for Their Christmas Vacation

    This title has too many words, and it looks like it could be the first sentence of the paper rather than the title. If you’re having trouble coming up with a catchy title, try thinking of the main point of your paper and come up with words that all start with the same letter. This is called alliteration, and I used it in my example above (snowmen and skyscrapers, Christmas and Coles). There is something about repeating consonant sounds that tends to grab a reader’s attention. This method is just one easy way to come up with a good title.


    If I wanted to come up with a title for a paper that I wrote about a magical place called Pandora, I would create a list of related words that either started with a P or had repetitive P sounds.

    Example: Pandora


    Planet
    Possibility
    Pretty
    Place
    Present
    Approach
    Opportunity



    Then, I would come up with different ideas for a title.


    Approaching the Planet of Pandora

    Pandora: A Place of Many Possibilities

    Pandora’s Infinite Opportunities




    Generally, it is best to wait until your paper is finished before you try to think of a title. Even though it’s the first thing someone will read about your paper, it should be one of the last things you write. Anytime you have a subtitle, you should also capitalize the first word of it (no matter what part of speech it is).



    Format of a Title Page (Formal Writing)

    The format of your title or title page will depend on the instructions of your paper. Be consistent with the guidelines given for each paper format. If your professor does not require you to follow a specific format, it is best to center your title and have one space above the first paragraph of your main text.

    1. APA title page guidelines can be found here.

    2. MLA title page guidelines can be found here.

    3. Chicago Manual title page guidelines can be found here.



    Formal Titles

    These titles will generally be longer than informal paper titles. It is acceptable to go over 10 words, but only do it when it is absolutely necessary in order to get your point across.

    The sole purpose of a title for a research paper is to inform the reader about the topic of the essay. These titles do not need to be catchy or unique. Actually, they only need to be clear and concise. Recall that the audience of research papers is probably going to be doing research on that same topic.



    For instance, let’s say that I was assigned a research paper to be written on the effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on veterans returning from war. I would start by reading articles that had been written about PTSD and the conclusions about its effects. If I search in a database for articles related to PTSD, I might get a list of titles like the ones below.

    (note: These titles are all written in different formats, but don’t let that confuse you. Stick to the format you were given in your instructions.)


    1. An investigation of relations between crystal methamphetamine use and posttraumatic stress disorder
    2. Cognitive-affective characteristics of smokers with and without posttraumatic stress disorder and panic psychopathology
    3. Correlates of Long-term Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Children Following Hurricane Katrina
    4. Fear less
    5. Families’ Perceptions of Veterans’ Distress Due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-Related Symptoms at the End of Life


    Given that all of these articles are based on research done on PTSD, it should be easy to understand what each article is about based on the title. The fourth title, Fear less, does not give specific clues to tell me what the article is referencing. In fact, this particular article is about a researcher who came up with treatments for veterans with PTSD, in order to help them cope with the disorder. This would be a great article for me to read for my assignment. However, due to the lack of information in the title, I would be more likely to skip over it because it isn’t clear whether I’d be wasting my time or not.

    After reading the other titles in my list, I don’t think the first three would be relevant to my paper, but the fifth one would definitely be worth reading. Next time you write a research paper, remember to make the title very clear about the topic of the paper. Save your creative and catchy titles for informal writing styles.

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Texting vs. Writing

    Texting has become so prevalent that a teenage girl has been diagnosed with carpal tunnel due to the amount of texts she sends daily. I think it’s safe to assume that not all 2,000 of her monthly texts were grammatically correct. In fact, I read an article recently that referenced a website to help you “create text messages” in case you aren’t familiar with the new language. An increasing number of teachers are expressing concern about the impact that texting has on students’ grammar.




    As a grammar fanatic, it has always bothered me to see sentences and words broken up to save time via email, text messages, and instant messaging software. I understand that the world now relies heavily on these programs for communication, and not everyone feels as strongly as I do about proper grammar. However, it is quite common that students confuse texting and writing to be the same thing. The truth is that they are incredibly different. Syntax (sentence structure) is affected by this new language of instant chatting, and I hope to clear up some of the confusion.

    It isn’t easy to always write out a complete sentence when you’re sending a text message. Most of the time, it’s best to keep it as short and to-the-point as possible, but it is also important to understand the difference between texting and correct grammar.
    Shameless plug: We offer a free online grammar checker that is state of the art.

    Text Example 1: u comin 2nite?!

    Text Example 2: lol yea b/c u r drivin me - thx ttyl

    I realize that my examples are the most extreme types of texts and the furthest away from proper grammar that I could possibly get, but I know that you understand what the texts are implying. I didn’t have to spell the words out and use proper punctuation, because I knew that the message would get across with less effort on my part. The problem is, if a student is writing like this 100+ times on a daily basis, then he or she is likely to struggle with writing a formal essay.



    1. The first thing to be aware of is capitalizing the first letter of each sentence in your essay. It can become a habit to text without capitalizing anything. Most of the time, the automatic spellchecker in your word processing software will correct these mistakes. However, pay attention to the following types of words that also must always be capitalized.

    Days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
    Months: January, February, March, etc.
    Holidays: St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc.
    Cities, States, Countries: Dover, Delaware, United States of America

    Never use ALL CAPS in an essay unless you are referring to an acronym. As stated in previous blog entries, italics should be used for emphasis, but not excessively. For commonly used words that are accepted as either capitalized or lowercase, the most important thing is to remain consistent.

    Incorrect: The World Wide Web has helpful resources that can broaden your array of knowledge on any particular issue. Use a search engine to locate which websites are available to you on the web.

    Since I capitalized World Wide Web, then I should have been consistent and capitalized the other words relating to the internet. I could have chosen to use lowercase letters, as long as I remained consistent throughout the paper.

    For further information on capitalization, visit this site.



    2. I’m not sure when the trend of leaving the g off of –ing words started, but it is common today in the texting world. If one were to do this in an essay (using it as a reference to southern dialect of a particular character, for instance), then there would be an apostrophe in place of the g. In fact, anytime a letter is omitted from a word, it still needs to be represented by an apostrophe.

    Example: “I’m thinkin’ ‘bout gettin’ some goats,” said the farmer.

    As you can see, the omission of letters only took place in quotation marks because I wanted the true accent of the farmer to come out strongly in the dialect. However, it should never happen in a formal essay without character dialogue (unless you have a specific quote from someone or a scholarly source that uses this dialect).



    3. It is acceptable to use abbreviations in text messages, but remember to always spell out words in essays. It may seem ridiculous to you that I even have to put this in here, but teenagers that are getting into the habit of writing poorly due to texting is a growing problem in America. The more you see texts and emails come to your phone or laptop with abbreviations instead of real words, the more comfortable you will be with writing this way, and you may forget to correct your errors in your essays.

    Example: The president said the new health care bill will benefit many Americans b/c it will mandate health insurance for everyone by 2014.

    Obviously, b/c cannot be used in a formal essay in place of because. You might not catch it if you are used to typing this way. Be aware that these mistakes can happen.



    4. Whenever possible, write all of your emails and text messages using full words instead of abbreviations. Try to make complete sentences when you have time to do so. The more you write correctly, the easier it will be when you have to sit down to write a paper, and the less effort you will have to make when you proofread to look for these mistakes.



    5. See Punctuation Marks regarding the use of punctuation in your essays. Remember, never use an exclamation point together with another punctuation mark, and don’t repeat them. In addition, I want to clarify the use of an ellipsis (…).

    I see ellipses used on Facebook and Twitter status updates all the time. They are usually used in modern texting language to represent a pause or often just to show the end of a statement.

    Example: went shopping today…… didn’t find nething on sale..

    Again, notice anything is spelled incorrectly, which is quite common in the texting language. However, the ellipses are also used incorrectly. First, whenever you use an ellipsis, make sure it has only three periods. It shouldn’t be any more or any less than three. Next, only use it to show omission of words in a quote.

    Full Quotation: It is very important to generate a good attitude, and a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.

    Shorter Quotation: It is very important to generate a good attitude … as much as possible. From this, happiness … will come.

    Using ellipses in the above example allowed me to still get the point across without using the entire quotation. This would be very useful if you were writing an argumentative essay and you wanted to leave out irrelevant parts of a quote so that they wouldn’t take attention away from your argument.

    If an ellipsis is used at the end of a quotation to show omitted words at the end of the phrase, then no other punctuation is needed after it.

    Example: “It is very important to generate a good attitude…” said the Dalai Lama.

    Be sure to check the rules about using an ellipsis in the handbook of your assigned format for research papers. MLA requires the use of brackets [ ] around the ellipsis in certain instances, while APA and Chicago Manual have different requirements.



    6. Sometimes when writing an email or a text message, it is easier to write and over and over instead of ending a sentence and beginning a new one. Don’t let this cause you to write a lot of run-on sentences in your essays. One coordinating conjunction should suffice in each sentence. If you find more than one, you may need to revise the phrase to be two or more separate sentences.

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Proofreading

    A student that proofreads his or her paper is determined to make it the best paper it can be. What is the excuse for the rest of the students? Small grammatical errors are easy to catch if you read back over your paper, but if you don’t, it could be the difference between an A and a B. One of the best things you can do for yourself to improve your writing is to proofread before you hand in an essay. Set aside some time to make it happen!


    Many people complain that proofreading takes too long, and when they’re finished writing their papers, then they’re finished working. That shouldn’t be how you feel when you think you’ve finished your paper. Only about 75% of the work is finished at this point. I have given you some tips on how to start proofreading.



    1. Just like with any other skill, the more you proofread, the better you’ll be. No matter what the assignment is, make it a habit to read back over your work before you hand it in. This includes short answers on exams, small homework assignments, and even questions on job applications. The more you read back over your writing, the more you’ll know about your strengths and weaknesses, and the more improvement you’ll make the next time you have to write an essay. That way, when you might not have a lot of time to go back and proofread, you’ll be able to pick out common mistakes that you know you usually make.



    2. Read word by word, not phrase by phrase. Since you were the one that wrote it, you will already know what you meant to say. However, what you meant to say may not actually be what you wrote. I’ve proofread for classmates who swore that they had caught all the simple mistakes in their essays, but I found spelling errors and missing words because they only skimmed over their work. Here’s an example of something that you could easily miss while skimming.

    Example: The September 11th attacks on the the World Trade Center were devastating to all Americans at that time.

    You might have noticed that there was an extra word in the sentence. The appears twice before World Trade Center. If you didn’t catch it, then you were probably skimming too fast. Now, imagine having 2 pages of text before this error. It is less likely that it would have been caught if you had already read a lot before skimming over that sentence. The point is, you will remember writing the paper (because you were the one that wrote it), but you need to make sure you aren’t biased, assuming that you typed everything correctly. Proofread your paper slowly as if you’re determined to find something wrong (as many professors will, too).



    3. Take breaks. I recommend taking breaks in the process of proofreading for papers that are over three pages long. For shorter papers, it is still good to take a break between the actual writing of the paper and the proofreading of it. Let’s face it, sometimes procrastination gets the best of us, and we wait until the last minute to write our papers. Take a 10-15 minute break after you think you’re done with it, and go back to read it over again. It may not be the best time to come up with a second draft, but it would be wise to check for spelling errors or sentences that could be rephrased to make them stronger.



    4. Don’t completely trust spell check to correct all of your mistakes. Most programs are good at catching words that are misspelled, but they don’t excel in catching appropriate meanings of the words. Of course, our style and grammar checker is excellent at giving tips on how to improve your paper. You can easily find suggestions on grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. It will definitely catch most of the spelling mistakes that you didn’t see, but sometimes only the author of the paper can know the true meaning behind each sentence.

    Example 1: The single bachelor seemed to be enjoying himself over a few beets with his date at the bar.

    Example 2: They started to get tire, so they ended up leaving earlier than expected.

    Now, it is perfectly possible that the particular bar where the bachelor and his date were having a good time was serving beets that night. However, it is more likely that they were having beers, instead. No spellchecker is going to catch these mistakes because everything is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, without proofreading carefully, this mistake might change the meaning of the entire sentence.



    5. Rearrange sentences or phrases, if necessary. Omit words if they seem redundant.

    Example: This mistake might entirely change the whole meaning of the entire sentence.

    This sentence is much better stated with only one of the underlined words; the other two can be omitted. Also, move sentences if they are in the wrong part of your paper. Sometimes (especially near the end of a paper) it becomes obvious that the author did not want to come up with nice transition words or to put new ideas in the appropriate part of the paper. If you start to think of something to add to the paragraph that you were writing 4 pages ago, then move your cursor up 4 pages and put it in the right spot. Don’t just add all your finishing points to the conclusion and expect your paper to flow smoothly. These errors are most likely to be caught after you take a break and go back to proofread. Copying and pasting can be very helpful.



    6. Use the highlighting tool that is found in many word processing programs as you are writing. If you know that you won’t have much time to go back and proofread, then highlight as you go, so you’ll be sure to go back and read those sections again. I use the highlighting tool for sentences that I think will need to be moved later, when I don’t want to be bothered with it at the moment. When I have a lot of ideas on my mind, I try to type them out as quickly as possible, and then go back to make them flow. Highlight words that you want to use in the thesaurus later, or sentences that you think are weak and need to be improved.



    7. Visit PaperRater before submitting your assignment, and navigate through the various tips that our program gives you to improve your paper. It is excellent at catching fragments and run-ons, as well. Use the vocabulary builder to spice up the tone of your paper. You may notice a difference when you are graded on your next essay!

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Know Your Audience

    For most of us, the only people that will literally be reading our papers are our professors and possibly fellow classmates. However, you shouldn’t always treat your audience as these individuals. Consider, for instance, that I have been given an assignment to write a letter to one of my state representatives to advocate for health care reform. My paper would be directed at the state representative, and my professor would be grading based on my understanding of this audience. Letters are usually the easiest type of assignment to understand the audience. To whomever the letter should be written is your audience. I wouldn’t want to write to my professor explaining how the letter would demonstrate advocacy for health care reform. I’d simply write the actual letter and let my instructor be the judge.



    Figuring out audiences of other types of essays can sometimes be tricky. Children’s books are obviously targeted at the younger generation, but not all written work makes it that simple. The first and easiest way to find your audience is to understand the assignment instructions. It is clear who the audience of a letter should be. Argumentative essays have a similar guide. Usually, your professor will give you instructions to construct an argument defending one side of a particular debate. The audience is usually the opposing side.

    Example:

    Assignment: defend health care reform

    Audience: legislators against health care reform

    Argument: One in six Americans doesn’t have health insurance. Financial difficulty due to medical expenses for the uninsured is the primary reason for bankruptcy in the United States. Therefore, there is a need for health care reform.

    If the assignment instructions are to write an essay illustrating both sides of a particular debate, your audience will change. Usually, this will depend on what the debated topic is.

    Example 1:

    Assignment: illustrate the debate of health care reform

    Audience: citizens voting for legislators, students learning about reform, legislators who are undecided

    Example 2:

    Assignment: explain the pros and cons of homeschooling

    Audience: parents deciding whether or not to teach their children at home

    As you can see by the above examples, some papers will have many different groups within the audience, while others will have only one group or one person. It will definitely help you know which styles of essays are formal and which are informal if you first understand who your audience is. Imagine reading your paper in front of a classroom of fourth graders. Your paper better not have profound diction and unrecognizable vocabulary words, or the students will be confused and bored. On the other hand, if you were standing in front of a group of Harvard-educated lawyers discussing a specific trial, you would want your paper to read fluently and be well-written. Knowing your audience is crucial to writing a strong essay.



    That brings me to the often feared research papers. Yes, they are probably the most difficult to write, but they don’t have to scare you. The audience of a research paper will almost never be young students. Mostly, you will be targeting a population of people that are interested in the topic about which you're writing. Where do most research scholars get their information? They get it from fellow researchers who have written essays about their findings. Sometimes you’ll be writing to an audience that is looking for evidence of a hot topic that might not have much literature about it.

    Remember: Think of your instructor as an observer. He or she will only be observing the information passed from you to your audience.



    For more help, see this Audience Analysis to guide you through the process of determining the appropriate audience.

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    Punctuation Marks

    It is important to know which type of paper you are writing and which type of punctuation marks are appropriate to use. Having the wrong punctuation marks could take away from an important point that you are trying to make, but having the right ones might add emphasis to the point. I want to help make it clear when and how you should use certain punctuation marks.  Use our free grammar checker to help with grammar, spelling correction, plagiarism check, punctuation, and much more.



    Exclamation Point (!)

    The exclamation point has one purpose, and that is to show exclamation. It allows the reader to feel excitement or alarm based on what it follows.

    Example: Everyone must evacuate the building immediately! There is a fire!

    These sentences would not have the same effect on the reader if they ended with periods. The exclamation point emphasizes that there is an emergency situation.

    Example 1: Hi, Rob! It is so good to see you again, finally!

    Example 2: Hi, Rob. It is so good to see you again, finally.

    The first example shows that the author is excited to see Rob and that he or she is relieved that the wait is finally over. The second example has a sense of sarcasm or calmness, as if there wasn’t much urgency for the author to ever see Rob again.

    Do not use exclamation points in research papers or other formal writing unless they are used in a quote. However, be cautious if you find exclamation points in reliable sources. Most scholarly journal articles and references will not have exclamation points included in them. This type of punctuation is most appropriate for informal writing styles (personal narratives and newspaper articles).

    Lastly, never use an exclamation point more than once after a sentence, and never combine them with question marks or other forms of punctuation. Now that the use of instant messaging software, email, and text messages has taken precedence over other forms of writing, many people get confused about what is proper and what isn’t.

    Incorrect: Karen told you what?!

    It is only necessary to have one punctuation mark after a sentence. This example is obviously from a dialogue. It is unclear whether or not the sentence is a statement or a question. Another way to write this expression correctly is below.

    Example: I can’t believe this! What did Karen tell you, exactly?

    Incorrect: You make me so happy!!!

    Using the exclamation point once is enough to show emphasis. It doesn’t need to be repeated in order to emphasize the expression.



    Question Mark (?)

    It should be clear that a question mark is used, well, after a question. If you need further explanation, refer to these tips provided by WhiteSmoke.




    Comma (,)

    Commas are probably the most widely used punctuation mark. However, they are not always used correctly. The easiest tip to figure out when the best time to place a comma is whenever the reader should pause or take a breath in the middle of a sentence. Anytime a coordinating conjunction is used (and, but, yet, etc.), then a comma should also be used. Transition words should be followed by commas. When dialogue is expressed to a particular person or group of people, a comma should separate that object from the rest of the sentence. A common example is shown below.

    Example 1: Let’s eat, Grandma!

    Example 2: Let’s eat Grandma!

    As you can see, the first example shows someone that is expressing interest in eating with his or her grandma. However, the second example is quite disturbing. Without the comma, it looks like the person is interested in actually eating grandma. One little mark can change the entire meaning of the sentence.
    There are many appropriate uses for commas, but they are often used too frequently. For a quick guide to some proper uses of the comma, visit PurdueOWL.



    An ellipsis (...) should generally only be used in quotations. For more information on this type of punctuation, see Texting vs. Writing.

    See General Grammar Tips for help on proper use of semicolons and quotation marks, and another earlier post has help on the use of parentheses.

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    We're Blushing

    With sites like MakeUseOf, DownloadSquad, and FeedMyApp featuring our service, we are thankful for the publicity and want to let you know that we have been reading your comments and suggestions.  With pen and paper in hand, we are taking notes and already planning many new features and improvements.

    Originality Detection

    Our plagiarism detection currently does a pretty good job, but we recognize that users would like to see what page(s) on the Internet matched their document.  This has been added to our "To Do" list.


    More Features

    Some of our critics have stated that our automated proofreading service is useful, but doesn't wow them enough to keep coming back.  Please consider that what you see right now is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of where we plan on taking this service.  If grammar checking, spelling correction, word choice analysis, and plagiarism detection does not do it for you, then we feel confident that the features on the horizon will.  Check back soon...

    Sunday, February 28, 2010

    Writing Numbers

    I know I’m not the only one that has struggled to remember the rules regarding when to write 3 or three in an essay. Fortunately, I will be clarifying the rules so that next time you run into this issue, you will remember what to do. Here are some brief rules to follow.



    1. The most commonly known rule is that if the number is less than 10, you must use the actual word (one, two, three, etc.). Additionally, if the number is greater than 10, you should use the numerals. However, you may choose to use words for numbers that are higher than ten and can be said in no more than two words. It is a matter of personal choice, but either way is accepted.

    Example 1: All of the thirty-nine students attended math class yesterday.
    OR
    All of the 39 students attended math class yesterday.

    Example 2: There are 178 children enrolled for the summer cheerleading camp.

    Incorrect: There are one hundred seventy-eight children enrolled for the summer cheerleading camp.



    2. Always use words for numbers that are at the beginning of a sentence. If possible, re-word the sentence so that a long number is not at the beginning.

    Example 1: Eight hundred fifty animals were rescued last year by the new wildlife preservation organization.

    Example 2 (revised): The new wildlife preservation organization rescued 850 animals last year.



    3. Numbers within the same categories should show consistency.

    Example: The woman bought 30 dollars worth of lottery tickets from five different stores. She previously won 100 dollars from purchasing tickets from two different stores.

    Incorrect: I have 20 pairs of shoes, but nine of them are too small for me now.

    In the incorrect example, I should have either spelled out twenty or written the number 9 in order to make them consistent.



    4. Spell out shorter versions of decades in lower-case letters. Or, put an apostrophe before the number and not before the s.

    Example 1: I was born in the seventies (or '70s), and my parents were born in the forties (or '40s).

    Incorrect: I was born in the ‘70’s, and my parents were born in the ‘40’s.

    Example 2: I was born in the 1970s (or 1970’s), and my parents were born in the 1940s (or 1940’s).



    5. The time of day can be written either as the number (using a.m. or p.m.) or written out (using o’clock). However, when you are expressing 12:00 a.m., use the word midnight instead. Also, use the word noon in place of 12:00 p.m.



    For more tips on writing numbers in an essay, visit Daily Writing Tips.

    Parentheses

    I wouldn’t recommend habitually using parentheses in essay writing. Newspaper articles, personal narratives, and other informal writing styles are the only types of papers that should have parentheses. So, it is best to know how to use them appropriately. Parentheses are used to add a piece of information that otherwise would cause the reader to misunderstand your point.

    Example: My father took my two youngest brothers to the baseball game (my oldest brother was away at college).

    Without the use of parentheses, the reader might think that my father didn’t want to take my oldest brother to the game. By adding the statement inside the parentheses, I made it clear that the oldest brother was out of town, and that’s why he didn’t go to the game. Making a new sentence to explain that my oldest brother was away at school wouldn’t be the best way to introduce that piece of information. Parentheses can also be used to expand on the details of a specific topic.

    Example: My father took my brothers to the baseball game (Braves vs. Red Sox).



    Acronyms

    Sometimes seeing long names of popular organizations (i.e. Central Intelligence Agency) can be quite troubling for the reader of your essay. In an essay that will be using the name of the organization more than once, it is best to follow it with the common acronym associated with it (shown in parentheses).

    Example: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been following Mr. Jones in a secret mission. Mr. Jones is unaware that the CIA has been tracking his location for the past few months.




    In-Text Citations

    Research papers require the use of citations to show from which sources your information has been gathered. Using parentheses to cite the references is appropriate. In APA style, cite the author’s last name followed by the page numbers. An example of this style can be found here.



    eHow offers more helpful advice regarding the use of parentheses.

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    Contractions

    When is the proper time to use a contraction? Which styles of papers should have them? As a matter of fact, what’s a contraction, exactly?

    I've noticed that Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader has asked numerous contestants to find contractions within sentences. It's very puzzling to see adults struggling with this simple part of speech. It might be beneficial to become familiar with these words as they play a huge part in everyday language (and in essay writing).

    A contraction is a simplified version of one or two words by omission of one or more letters and the use of an apostrophe. The most noted example of confusion when it comes to using a contraction can be found in the following two words: your, and you're.

    Example: Your dog just ate my food, and now you're going to have to buy another meal for me.

    You're is a contraction. It is the combination of you and are. We say it all the time, but when it's written, it's usually spelled incorrectly. Your is an adjective describing a noun (Whose dog is it? It's your dog, not you're dog). If you're ever unsure of which spelling is correct, try saying the sentence using you are in place of the word each time. If it fits, then use the contraction you're. If not, use the adjective your.

    Example: You are dog just ate my food, and now you are going to have to buy another meal for me.

    It doesn't fit in the first clause, but it does in the second.



    Using Contractions in Essays

    Contractions are seen in very informal writing styles. This blog, for instance, is very informal. I can freely use contractions because this writing should flow easily, as if I were having a conversation with you. If you haven't noticed, I have been using contractions in this entire blog already. They're written in green. The problem with many contractions that are used in everyday language is that many people don't know how to spell them, or they use them incorrectly.

    Example: I could've taken the bus, but I decided to walk instead.

    Could've is a contraction of could and have.

    Incorrect: I could of taken the bus, but I decided to walk instead.

    When writing a research paper or any other formal paper, make sure there are no contractions in the essay. I'd also recommend not using contractions in resumes, cover letters, or school application personal statements. Usually, it won't be necessary to come up with a new word to use. Simply take the apostrophe out of the contraction and use the words separately.

    Example (informal writing): Today, the medical staff told Carrie that she'll be discharged soon.

    Example (formal writing): Today, the medical staff told Carrie that she will be discharged soon.

    The second example shows that by taking the contraction out of the sentence, I've made it more professional in appearance and made it sound more professional to read. Some contractions won't be appropriate to separate, but the majority of them will; use your own judgment. For example, the contractions o'clock and ma'am are better understood as contractions.

    Be sure to read the sentence thoroughly before assuming that it will make sense without the contraction.

    Example: Didn't Mark say he would take Sarah to the movies?

    Incorrect: Did not Mark say he would take Sarah to the movies?

    Although the contraction is separated, the second sentence is not written properly. When you are writing a negative question (using the word not), then the verb goes before the subject and not goes after the subject.

    Example: Did Mark not say he would take Sarah to the movies?

    This would be the correct way to write the sentence in a formal essay.

    One last point that I'd like to make is that the contraction it's does not show possession of an object. With most other nouns, the use of an apostrophe and the letter s shows possession.

    Examples: John's cat; the baby's toy; my car's engine

    However, possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes.

    Examples: that lamp is hers, its eyes were open



    For a list of contractions and the words from which they are formed, visit Enchanted Learning.

    Consult my blog about commonly misspelled words for more information on words like your and you're.

    For more help on possessive pronouns and apostrophes, visit Purdue OWL.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Outlines

    In high school, teachers always stressed the importance of writing an outline before beginning your essay, but how many of us really took the time to do this? I remember waiting until the night before it was due to start on the paper. However, in college, it’s harder to get an A if you wait until the last minute. Professors aren’t as lenient about poor writing, and they expect papers to flow logically. Creating an outline can not only help your paper flow, but it’s an easy way to get your paper done without experiencing writer’s block!


    Outlines don’t always have to be structured in the way you were taught in school (using alphanumeric symbols, etc.). In fact, the best way to outline is whatever comes naturally to you. Outlines are meant to be helpful, but they are often seen as useless by many students. The problem, in my opinion, is the way we are told to outline in school. For me, using Roman numerals can be just as confusing as writing the paper without an outline. Also, I was told to use phrasing instead of complete sentences for my outlines. However, I have found that writing my entire thoughts in complete sentences makes it much easier to write the paper, because the sentences were already done.

    I almost always hand write my outlines. I keep a spiral notebook that is used only for outlining, and I am able to write ideas as they come to mind. Usually, when I am given a writing assignment, I immediately think of some points that I want to be sure to include in the paper. I write these ideas down (in complete sentences), and each of them start on a new line. Then, I go back and write numbers next to each sentence/idea in the order I want them to appear in my paper. It’s not always convenient to have your computer ready when you think of an idea for your paper. Having a notebook to quickly write down ideas is a very useful tool.

    [ NOTE: If you haven't already done so, please check out our style and grammar checker ]

    This has been the easiest technique for me when writing research papers, because there is a lot of information to keep up with. While I’m researching, I will write down main points and the citations of where I found these ideas. Then, when I sit down at my computer, I have the notebook handy to keep my ideas flowing. For example, if I was assigned to write a biography of a friend, I would have a list that looks something like this:


    1 Jerry was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in December.

    1 It was a very cold winter day.

    4 He is the owner of his own business now.

    3 He studied business management in college.

    2 When he was two years old, his father died in a car accident.

    2 He had three older sisters that helped his mother.

    3 He played soccer in high school and in college.



    These few short sentences will give me ideas for about three or four paragraphs. I could expand on the day he was born, and what the weather conditions were like. I could talk more about his father and explain how Jerry didn’t get the chance to know him very well. I could expand on his three sisters and their lives, or I could talk more about his mother and how her life influenced him. Just having this brief outline makes it easier when it’s time to write the paper. I could go in a lot of different directions.

    Finally, be sure to read your paper after every 2-3 paragraphs, and then read it again when it’s complete. I’ve talked to many students that mention never going back over their papers and editing after the first draft. If you aren’t the type of person that works well with outlines (as many of us aren’t), then treat the first draft of your paper as your outline! You may be a good writer, but papers are never perfect the first time through. You may realize some points you left out, some points you’ve repeated too much, or maybe that a paragraph that you wrote at the end would fit much better in the beginning of your paper. In Microsoft Word (and many other word processing programs), there is an option to highlight. This is a very helpful tool when you go back to read your paper, because you can highlight words or sentences that may need improvement (as an easy reference to go back and correct them later).

    Remember: If you don’t even want to go back and read your paper, then what makes you think your professor will enjoy reading it?

    No matter what method of outlining works best for you, there’s still no denying how nice it is to have your paper almost finished before you even start it. Below are links to sites that show different types of outlines. Get a feel for which one would work best for you. It will definitely be worth it next time you have to write an essay.




    Owl Purdue Online Grammar Lab gives a useful page of types of outlines and samples of those outlines.