Friday, December 9, 2011

Test Taking Strategies (literal light bulbs).

There are several different kinds of tests. One question that many people ask is: Why do we have to take tests? That is a good question. Let's start off by taking the "Why Do We Have to Take Tests" test.

Question #1.

What would the world be like if nobody took driving tests?

Questions #2.

What would people do if they never took vision tests?

Question #3.

Do I need to continue?

Without tests, we would live in a world of blurry-brained road-ragers who keep mistaking the gas for the brake. Sometimes tests are necessary, and even if they're not, sometimes we've just got to take them. Now that the semester is winding down, we've got to face it. Sometimes we've got to take tests. Here are some tips to keep you thinking on your toes before taking so many finals.

Tip #1

Don't just go into the test thinking that you'll ace it if you haven't even opened up a book. If you walk into the final and you haven't studied, please wear your running shoes. As soon as the professor administers the test, put down your pencil, and run to the nearest McDonald's for a job application.

Tip #2

Sometimes we study and we're just horrible test takers. That's okay. As long as the information is up there someplace, you should rest assured that it has the ability to come to you at the right time if you stop fidgeting and worrying. This brings me to my next tip....

Tip #3

Relax. The world won't end over a test. People don't say "give it the old college try" for no reason at all. Go in there with confidence and do your best.

Also, perhaps I should pass this tid-bit of information along to you. Studies have been done on students who were taking tests. The ones that tested with the best grades were the ones who were in the right mindset. Don't watch cartoons before your exam. Try thinking like a scientist, (or whatever it is you're hoping to be). Put yourself in the position of your professors. Try to think along the lines of those who you admire in your field. Go into the test with the mindset of success. Visualize yourself in the seat you are moving towards. Wear a tie. Bring your Einstein doll (I would bring my pine-plant that I named "Pine-stein"). Bring a light bulb and let it hover over your head. If you are taking a philosophy test, bring a giant question mark. Ask Galileo to come along. Write a letter to Abraham Lincoln. Do anything to help yourself get into the mindset and then -

Have a Happy Holiday!

Gina LoBianco & The Writing Center Staff

Monday, December 5, 2011

Put into a Comma after Punctuation-palooza

So you have this bundle of assignments that you got done two weeks ahead of finals because you're an especially responsible student who enjoys a relatively stress-free conclusion to his/her semester. First of all, bite me. Second of all, good for you. Although now you're probably getting anxious; none of your professors accept early assignments because they have "other things to work on" before they receive the torrent of papers and accompanying papercuts that arrive just before holiday break. What to do, what to do.

Here's a crazy idea: go back over them. Now I know it's painful to go back and look at old work (I have a whole folder of assignments on my computer that I refuse to open because I'm sure it'll send me into shock), but you haven't turned in your assignment yet. Basically, you're not quite done yet. That compare/contrast paper you did on the political associations of Fox News and MSNBC? You know, the one you knocked off in a couple hours so you could go see the new Twilight at midnight because your friends are fans of the series but you never saw one before because you read high-brow stuff like David Sedaris and frequent McSweeney's? Welp, you might just want to glance over it one more time.

MSNBC has Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, and Chris Matthews.

Fox News features Bill O'Reilly, Shepard Smith and Greta Van Susteren.

Look hard. There is a difference between those two sentence, one that goes beyond the content. I'll give you a hint. It's not the periods. Give up? It's the commas. You use them in a series. While in the first series you use one before the "and," you didn't put one before the "and" in the second one. Now, it's my understanding that either is acceptable but here's a word of advice: consistency. You want to keep the stylistic choices you make consistent or someone's going to take them for mistakes as opposed to a decision of style.

Commas are a weakness, you say? Let's change that. Let's make them a strength.

Oh, here's another spot.

Fox News personalities tend to sit on the right-wing of politics; conversely many MSNBC personalities sit on the left-wing.

Astute observation. Bravo on the semi-colon. But you forgot something. It's not the--

Yeah, it's the comma. Or rather, the lack thereof. Any idea where you might jam that comma?

Fox News personalities tend, to sit on the right-wing of politics; conversely many MSNBC personalities sit on the left-wing.

NOPE. Try again.

Fox News personalities tend to sit on the right-wing of politics; conversely, many MSNBC personalities sit on the left-wing.

Huzzah! Right after the transition! Bravo. One more spot.

Keith Olberman was once on MSNBC, but has since left.

Now let's--okay, so you're getting it now. Commas. Solid. But what do you think the issue is with this comma? Still nothing? Try reading after the comma and conjuction:

has since left.

Who has since left? What has since left? What did you do with that subject?! By jamming that comma before the phrase you created a compound sentence out of a sentence and a fragment--a union that should never be.

Now there are some other spots in that paper where you made similar mistakes with commas.

Eliminate them.

Last Week of the Semester

The Writing Center will close for the fall semester on Friday, December 9 at 1 p.m. If you need to schedule an appointment for this last week of the semester, please call 581-5929 to schedule an appointment. We look foward to working with you.

We open for the spring semester on Wednesday, January 11. We hope to see you again next semester.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Finale

Like any good tv show, this semester is coming to an end and it's almost time for the season finale. Will it end with a cliffhanger? Will your favorite character get cast off? Does the relationship end with question marks and polka dots? Does Dawson fall into the creek? Now is the time for our brains to run the marathon. We all know how awful people look when they run (it's just unnatural!), but we've got to plow through, red face and silly swishy-pants or not. Some people achieve a type of peace after they run for a prolonged period of time (I wouldn't know). That's what I've been trying to find. Now is the time for all of the final papers when it seems like my brain is just as barren as the cornfields that engulf me. Although the game is on, we've got to remain calm. Remember rule # 6. What is rule #6, you ask? Rule #6 is "Don't take yourself too seriously." What are all of the other rules, you ask? There aren't any. Just keep on truckin'.

On a semi-related topic:
After writing several millions of research papers, I've found a method that seems to generally work for me. First, I pick a topic. It is always something that I'm really interested in. If there isn't anything that you're interested in, make it into something that you are interested in. Be creative with it. Second comes the research. You don't need to have a thesis at this point, because chances are you don't know what you're going to say. You will most likely realize what you're going to say after you've read about what everyone else has said. I find all of my sources from the library and the interweb. Next, I read through my sources and take thorough notes on my computer. Be sure to include page numbers, works cited, and quotes within your notes so that the writing process is less difficult. Then, abra-cadabra! You formulate your thesis after reviewing your notes, outline, and write your paper! And you think to yourself 'What a wonderful world?'

DISCLAIMER: Also, please make sure to eat lots of brain food. If I'm working at school, I always make sure to have some change for my most-loved vending machine slot, D2 (not to be confused with the movie, which I also like). Finally, when you start seeing strange people coming out of your computer, talking to your computer, or find that your eyes haven't blinked in three hours, and possibly are physically not able to blink, take a break.

Monday, November 28, 2011

About What I Said on Procrastinating...

Welcome back, folks. If you're like me, chances are you were not as productive as you planned to be over the break. I wrote a list of four goals I wanted to complete by the time this past Sunday evening rolled around. Let's just say I took a loose interpretation of the word "complete." But now is not the time to dawdle! Now is the time to be productive!

...or not. But I can be optimistic, right?

In a way, I'd like to think my goals list was a step in the direction of being productive. The goals were not necessarily the order of steps I had to take in order to have a productive break, but they were obstacles I'd have to overcome if I wanted to minimize my stress levels in the next three weeks.

"Wow, Doug, this is great advice and all, but what the bleep does it have to do with writing?"

It has everything to do with writing, just let me explain.

In one of my moments of productivity (I had them! Pinky swear!), I went back to revise a paper. We had a peer review in the class so I had lots of valuable input from my classmates, operative word here being lots. I felt daunted by the amount of suggestions thrown my way by everybody, all of them excellent suggestions on how to make my better just that much more awesome. Before I started to sob over all of my scratchings, I had brainwave: compile suggestions into a list and check them off as I went.

This made all of the comments I was working with less of a jumble and more of a list of objectives to check off as I completed them. I could then see progress I was making with my paper without having to go back through it over and over. Then, when all of my objectives were checked off, I could go back and read it to make sure it flowed like a river in spring or in my apartment's parking lot.

So, for future reference:
  • Finish paper
  • Get peer reviewed
  • Make checklist
  • Eliminate things of checklist as they're completed
  • Turn in paper
Do this in whatever order you like, although you might find it helpful to do the first four before you do the last bit.

Thursday Workshop Series

"Writing on the Spot: Essay Exams"

December 1st at 3:30pm
EIU Writing Center
3110 Coleman Hall

The focus of this workshop will be writing for exams.  We will provide strategies and examples to help prepare you for future essay exams.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Before You Write (You Are A Coffeepot)

Before you write, there are some things that you can do to move along the process. One great example is TAKE A BREAK FROM WRITING ALL TOGETHER! Our brains are like coffeepots and you need to brew your idea before you get a nice steaming cup of coffee. Imagine if you didn't let your coffee brew. You might be drinking what really looks like a cup of mud. Before you write, go for a walk, do a little dance in your living room, spin around in a chair, anything! Give your brain time to connect the dots and clear your mind of it all together.

I've seen people dislike writing so much that they carry it with them wherever they go! They call it procrastination, but it's really more like dread. Give your brain a break and think about other things and before you know it, you'll be making connections that you never thought of before. It's wonderful! It's like magic! It's like dropping off your dry-cleaning! That pickle stain is all of the sudden gone and you don't want to know how it happened! You just accept the fact that it's gone and then you act like it was never there in the first place!

Do all of these pickle analogies have you down? Try it. Go for a walk instead of sitting in front of a blank screen. Ride a bicycle. Take your friend's neglected shih tzu for a walk. Fly a kite. Make a cup of joe and drink it, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Word Monster

Why is that word wrong? I didn’t write that? The problem is figuring out what happened.


It’s the Word Monster! Or better known as the dreaded spell check trap.

Because of this Word Monster, proofreading your own paper is even more important. Spell check is helpful, but those squiggly lines that appear under your words or citations don’t necessarily mean they are wrong.

Proofreading is an important part of the writing process because if wrong words appear in sentences, then they can alter the entire meaning of those sentences.

Examples of the Word Monster within your paper can be:
Define and definite
Obtain and abstain
Weather and whether
Affect vs. effect
Corpse vs. corps
Text anxiety vs. test anxiety
Immunity vs. impunity
Test vs. testes
They’re vs. there vs. their

Along with word changes, sometimes Microsoft Word has weird squiggly lines underneath citations. An example would be a citation I turned in for a paper recently: 
Baker, Timothy C. “The (Neuro)- Aesthetics of Caricature: Representations of Reality in Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park.” Poetics Today. Fall 2009. MLA International Biography. Web. 1 September 2011.
Though the citation is right, the Word Monster underlines parts of my citation as if they were wrong, and they are not.

Because of the Word Monster's antics, proofreading is even more important than it was when we had no other option than writing papers by hand and then typing them. 

So watch out for the Word Monster! Proofread your papers before you turn them in and make sure your words are your words, not the Monster’s!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Heavyweight Boxing

You've probably done an outline at some point in your life. You probably did it before you wrote your paper. And hey, that's swell. But did you ever consider doing an outline after the paper?

"No," you say, shaking your head emphatically. "The paper was done. Why outline the finished product?"

"Ah-HA!" I holler. "Is it really done?"

Keep staring at me with that ridiculous look on your face. I'll explain myself. In truth, your paper isn't done until you get the grade, and even then I don't think it's 100% done. But indeed, why do an outline after the paper's been drafted? Believe it or not, an outline might help to better organize your thoughts. Take, for instance, a box outline. Even if you haven't done a box outline, you've probably done something similar. The box outline is merely an aesthetic method that makes your outline look a little neater than simply letters or numbers or even using bubbles. Applying a box outline to a "finished" product is simple: you simply create a series of boxes for each paragraph. In each box, you then describe what you basically are trying to do in said paragraph. If you find it easy to do, congratulations! Your paragraph is likely cohesive. If you find difficulty in it, so sorry--try again! If you find your paragraph description is getting overly complicated, it could be a matter of just breaking it apart into smaller, bite-size chunks of paragraph that'll be easier for your readers to get down. By applying this box outline method post-draft, you can double-check yourself to make sure you're not creating some unwieldy paragraph that looks both unattractive and uninviting to readers. As writers, we want to make our writing as accessible to readers as possible, unless, of course, we want to be unlikable pretentious jerks. As they write, some people have the tendency to go into a huge paragraph without breaking it up, bogging down their readers with no breaks of white space...

...oh dear.

Thursday Workshop Series

"Writing with Sources: APA Style"

November 17th at 3:30pm
EIU Writing Center
3110 Coleman Hall

The focus of this workshop will be using the APA documentation style.  We will examine different sources within that context in a fun and informative way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Literature in Review

The beautiful thing about literature is all of the places that it takes you. Whenever I walk into a bookstore, I feel like I'm at an airport. You get to choose where you want to go. Perusing the aisles and looking at all of the pretty/interesting book covers, feeling their jackets, flipping through the pages-it is all of the fun in it! I've walked through the damp streets of London, lived out of a hut in the Congo, been an albino hunchback circus-mutant and a wandering Japanese poet all without ever having to leave my own home.

The ability of literature to transform us is profound. I can remember the overall feeling of reading The Idiot, or Oliver Twist and I get nostalgic. Dickens' ability to capture certain dialects amazed me. "Cub id, sir, Cub id" (a nasally "Come in, sir, Come in.") when I say it aloud it amazes me. And now I have all of these characters running loose in my head. Each one of them has shaped me into the person that I am today. Reading a good book is like making a good friend and whenever you hear that name you will smile inwardly and remember that feeling. When I finished Hunter S. Thompson's Kingdom of Fear, the last sentence made me smile for a week straight. When I read A Farewell to Arms nearly a decade ago, I didn't want to talk to anyone for the rest of the day. Woody Guthrie's autobiography made me feel like a child. Diane di Prima's Recollections of My Life as a Woman enveloped me for days. There are so many things that you can do with books. You can keep them on your shelf to remind you of a time. You can stack them and use them as a table. You can read them! You can ask a question and flip open to a random page (a fun game I like to play). You can eat oatmeal with them.

What will you do? Where will you go?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Concise Papers: The Key to College Writing

Although college writing assignments are diverse, most professors and professionals appreciate concision. There are many ways to make sure that a paper is concise and to the point. Whenever editing a paper, checking for word repetitions and redundant phrases is a good place to start. By focusing on cohesion, your paper can be more persuasive and elegant instead of wordy and cluttered.

Wordy sentences might occur mostly during the first drafts because you’re trying to get your ideas on the page. For example, Jackie might repeat “painting” throughout her paper instead of explaining the art piece in detail. And Michelle who’s writing a lab report might repeat “experiment” in her drafts. In an English class, Megan might use “author” too often and neglect using the writer’s last name to switch up word choices.

Here’s an example:
"In the piece of art, the painter creates a gloomy feeling by using different colors. Blending the colors together makes the viewer of the art feel very gloomy. The colors are a mixture of black and white with some gray that give off the gloomy feeling that the painter is trying to show throughout his/her piece."

In this example, the writer of this paragraph uses gloomy three times, as well as the repetition of the word color. If the author of the paragraph wants the paragraph to read smoothly, she’ll need to cut repetitive words to appear more concise.

Redundant phrases can also be a problem when referencing similar information throughout a paper. Phrases such as “passive kind of behavior,” blue in color,” as well as “advance planning” are a few examples of how information presented in a sentence is stating the same information in different ways.

Repetitive information and redundant phrasing are only a few red flags to look for when trying to make your paper more concise. One strategy to help pull away from redundant phrasing and word repetition is simply reading your paper aloud. Reading your paper aloud can help you catch these glitches and also make sure you’re presenting clear and concise information.

Going through your paper backwards sentence by sentence can also help catch awkward phrasing and redundant word usage. Starting from the bottom of your paper, read each sentence from beginning to end like normal. Doing this takes each sentence out of context and helps concentrate on the wording of every sentence.

Making a paper more concise can not only help you become a better writer, but doing so also helps the reader understand your main points.

Monday, November 7, 2011

From the Comma Police to the Judge's Sentence

If you'll recall Gina's Radiohead homage/how to on introductory clauses and comma use, you'll remember that commas are used both after introductory phrases and when introducing someone. But you may be shocked to learn that commas have a few other uses that might just blow your mind. You may also note that the title of this post was a poorly-constructed attempt to do her post homage, but please forgive me. Parody is not my strong suit.

Commas (or as some confused people call them, "comas") are often thrown in by budding writers when they think a natural pause appears. It's like they want to mark a spot where the reader can take a breath if reading out loud. While it's certainly kind of them, it's unnecessary.

You may be asking, "Doug, can I use my commas in my cooking?"

"No," I answer, though I am interested in seeing you try.

You then ask, "Can I use them to stick together pieces of paper?"

"Not quite," I respond, "but you're getting closer."

Before you can even get a word out, however, I excitedly shout the answer, "YOU CAN PUT SENTENCES TOGETHER WITH THEM!!!" While you're recovering from my outburst, allow me to explain.

Compound sentences are essentially combinations of two sentences slapped together. One of the ways you can do so is with a comma and a connector. For example:

I lost the bet, so now I have to wear a dress.

The first sentence here is "I lost the bet," while the second one is "now I have to wear a dress." You'll notice there is also a "so" there. What of this "so"? It's our connector, a coordinating conjunction like for, and, nor, but, or, and yet. Add the "so" on the end there and you'll remember the words easily: "FANBOYS."

Now you're telling me, "But Doug, I know this already. It's kids stuff."

Slow down there, sport. I got something else to tell you. There's another way you can paste two sentences together and it's with a little something I (and most people) like to call a semi-colon. You've probably seen it before; you might see it in this sentence here. You'll recognize it as the little brother to the colon, like a colon with a tail, but truthfully the two punctuation marks are functionally dissimilar. Let's look at our earlier compound sentence:

I lost the bet; now I have to wear a dress.

It looks a little cleaner, doesn't it? No comma, but also no connector. Don't let the cleanliness fool you, however. If you use a semicolon too much, you may get semicolon-happy. Some people want to use a semicolon when they actually want to use a comma. Our EIU Writing Center Punctuation Pattern Sheet notes that it's "most effective when used sparingly." Too many semicolons can make your paper semigood.

It's important to remember that, though the semicolon looks like a comma with a great idea, they're not perfectly interchangeable. Think of the dot in the semicolon as compensating for the missing connector; if you don't have the dot, all you have is a comma. And then you just look ridiculous.

Thursday Workshop Series

"Writing with Sources: MLA Style"

November 10th at 3:30pm
EIU Writing Center
3110 Coleman Hall

The focus of this workshop will be using the MLA documentation style.  We will examine different sources within that context in a fun and informative way.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stereo Instructions in German

“Q: What’s hard for you?

A: Mostly I straddle reality and the imagination. My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane. Math is hard. Reading a map. Following orders. Carpentry. Electronics. Plumbing. Remembering things correctly. Straight lines. Sheet rock. Finding a safety pin. Patience with others. Ordering in Chinese. Stereo instructions in German.”-Tom Waits

I remember when I was a kid walking down the school hallways, I used to count the tiles and only step on the brown ones today, or the only the white ones today. It was easy because I was the one that was moving around. I was in charge of the giving and taking. Then they wanted me to do long division, and I've been waiting for that click ever since. Somehow when it comes down to it, you can do anything with numbers. You can manipulate them your own way, somebody else's way, everybody's way, or you can just stop being so manipulative and let them be. I love 2x as long as it's the size of my hot fudge sundae.

I am straddling the line of reality and imagination, too, Tom. Let's say, for instance, that you're driving down the street and you see a man riding a bike. There's something about the way that he moves that makes you think "prehistoric." He is obviously a close relative to the T-Rex, the way that he's moving there, mechanical, like his arms and legs are on greased-up hinges. His head spins upwards towards you, in the car, and he gives you a bizarre look. He knows that you know. You'd better drive faster. His little hands with chicken claws are extending in your direction. Just step on the gas and don't look back at him. Maybe he'll get into a fight with a stegosaurus instead.

Or, let's say that you go to your favorite local restaurant and the waitress has squirrel-blonde hair. Is it natural? She's got it cut so that you wouldn't be able to tell. Did she harvest your meal after digging up her secret stash of acorns? So much depends upon a mellow metaphor. Does your father have stout Jack London-eyes? Do you see Al Pacino every time you look at your uncle? My neighbor has a Tom Hanks voice and every time I hear him I want to put on a cowboy hat or get stuck on some island and talk to a volleyball. Everything is connected. Write what you love.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

National Novel Writing Month

November means three things to a student: papers, Thanksgiving, and avoiding papers until after Thanksgiving. But to some of us, it means one additional thing: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. If you've ever taken a creative writing class comprised of some of the "hardcore" folks who actually enjoy writing, you've surely heard the phrase. While I personally disdain the phrase in its abbreviated form (it sounds like a technology from a pulpy science fiction series), I've always been attracted to the idea behind it as a creative writer. I must confess I've never actually made an attempt to participate.

The goal is simple. You have thirty days beginning on November 1st at midnight and ending on November 30th at 11:59 PM to write 50,000 words. Say you have about 250 words to the page. Do the math and you'll find that it comes out to be, like, a 1000 pages. Or something. I may carried a number wrong, but math is not my strong point. In any case, assuming you fire off the necessary amount of words by the end of the month, you'll have yourself a beautiful novel.

Then again, it may not be that pretty. Part of the fun/torture of NaNoWriMo (there I go, doing it myself) is taking no time to edit and focusing on pure, nasty generation. According to the website, it's "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing," which translates into, "you'll probably hate what you wrote when you read it later." They even have the good hear to warn you that "you will be writing a lot of crap." But they insist "that's a good thing." And I'm inclined to agree with them.

As writers, we want to edit as we go, often causing problems for us as we compose. Our internal editor is shouting away at us in our minds, reminding us that "that's crap" we just smeared on the screen/page/napkin. But with NaNoWriMo (ugh) we accept it, nay, we embrace it!

So why do it? The official website offers a few reasons ("To stop being one of those people who say, 'I've always wanted to write a novel,'" or "To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties") and though they may not seem the most productive reasons, I assure you there is something to get out of it aside from a bunch of pages of a mess. By participating in NaNoWriMo, you're pushing yourself to become a more dedicated writer. You set goals for yourself (write 1,600 words a night, 12,500 a week, etc.). The most beneficial thing about National Novel Writing Month (haha!) is that you get to gag that internal editor and stuff him in the trunk until he learns to play nice. Or until you're done with your novel.

Now, off to write 1,600 words of garbage.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Voice: Across the Curriculum

The writing process is different for everyone, but writing for a particular class can evoke a different voice or tone that’s present. Regardless of the writing itself, whether it’s creative, research, synthesis or any other style, your voice is present within the paper.

When writing a creative piece (fiction, play, poem, or essay based on personal experience), the voice of the writer can be examined insofar as the point of view of the characters or the type of creative piece overall. For example, the sentence, “I went home this past weekend for my brother’s birthday,” is a sentence in first person. Most of the time this is acceptable when writing creative pieces unless the assignment calls for something different. Also, when creating stories, having a steady narrator will allow for an avenue for readers to identify with the characters. While composing, the author has to make sure to maintain the voice in style and point of view in order to create cohesion of the piece itself.

In contrast to personal and creative writing, when writing research papers a lot of people don’t think their voices can be heard amongst the research. Sometimes this process causes difficulties for writers because they are struggling to make their voice heard since the use of “I,” “you,” and “we” are less common when composing a research paper. When writing a research-based paper, students should be composing mostly in third person, such as the use of “a lot of people” in the first sentence of this paragraph. Some commonly used phrases in research papers are “one,” “the results show…,” and “the conclusions are…” in contrast to pronouns such as “I” and “we.” For example, though this post doesn’t contain any pronoun indicators of being in first person, my voice shows by how my point is presented as well as by the tone of my post.

Being conscious of the assignment and what type of writing is required for a paper can help you use strategies to make sure your voice is present within a paper.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Goodbye October (Punctuation Month)

Although I haven't made any formal announcement, October was punctuation month. I blogged about punctuation every Friday during October. I secretly celebrated with all of the commas and the colons. Now it's over and Punctuation Month will go out with a bang (or will it).

Parentheticals! Life is filled with them. Snooty remarks would be nowhere without them (that's what you think). Who else gives a voice to the things that we say under our breath? Only parentheses can do that!

Parentheses have several uses. Here are a few:

-Use parentheses to enclose numbers or letters in a series.
ex: In order to make pumpkin pie, you need (1) pumpkin and (2) pie

-Use parentheses to enclose supplemental information
ex: For the last eighteen years (almost nineteen) he's slept with a teddy bear.

-Use parentheses to indicate the possibility of singular or plural nouns
ex: If anyone has information about the person(s) in charge, please call 1-800-WHOWORKSHERE

-Use parentheses to indicate an acronym
ex: We were so happy to become members of MEMBERS (Members Every Moment Because Everyone's Really Saving)

-Use parentheses to enclose dates
ex:My undergraduate career (1970- ) will last forever as long as Domino's still has large pizzas for $5.

-Use parentheses to enclose citation
ex: I heard someone say "If you die on the elevator, be sure to push the UP button" (Levenson).

Thank you for joining us during Punctuation Month. Be sure to stay tuned next month for more categorized fun!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thursday Workshop Series

"Does It Flow?  Strategies for Organizing and Presenting Ideas"

October 27 from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. in the Writing Center

Find out how you can create a smooth logical flow from idea to idea and paragraph to paragraph.

BrbAfkLolBbq - A Modest Proposal

For the majority of readers with cell phones and texting plans or voracious instant messaging habits, those letters look familiar to you. All too familiar. They're all shorthand--quick and to the point. Going to be away for a bit? "Be right back"--"brb." Away for longer? "Away from keyboard." Want to eat barbecue? "Bbq."

In the last few years, text messaging has risen from small trend to full-blown epidemic. The language has become such a central part to what we write that it's usurped our formal written language. In some papers, people type "2" instead of "to." The worst part is, even if they proofread carefully, they may not find the error for the simple fact that they don't see it an error. They use it in their everyday language, so what's the problem?

Unfortunately, instructors haven't gotten the memo that textspeak is okay, nor have some of us who were late to the texting game. Though I shudder to think of a world in which textspeak is like a macabre form of newspeak, we can fight the possibility of this. Now here's what I propose:

Stop using textspeak.

I'm not saying don't text any more. Text to your heart's desire! But try it just once--a text message in which you eliminate the numbers for letters and grossly-used shorthand. While it is just a bit more time consuming, newer phones are designed with auto-correct and similar technologies that do not allow you to use shorthand unless it's programmed in. And honestly, it may be difficult to do at first. So try it little by little. Drop your shorthand. Try a full sentence just once! Maybe, just maybe, you'll find you like using full words.


Friday, October 21, 2011

The Almighty Apostrophe

The has apostrophe three uses:
1. to form possessive nouns
2. to show the omission of letters
3. to indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters

1. Here are some ways to form possessive nouns:

-Add 's to the singular form of the word, even if it ends in s.

ex: Hidalgo's hips weren't as strong as they used to be.
ex: James's sarsaparilla went stale on Saturday.

-Add s to plural forms that do not end in s
ex: The geese's knees were put on backwards.

-Add ' to the end plural form of nouns that end in s
ex: Three friends' scooters were all broken.

-Add 's to the end of compound words
ex: My step-mother's shoes mysteriously disappeared.

-Add 's to the last noun to show possession of an object
ex: Hank and Didley's Hamburger Helper tasted funky.

2. Showing omission of letters

-Contractions are common in giving birth and in informal writing.

Here are some ex's (examples):

don't = do not
I'm = I am
he'll = he will
who's = who is
shouldn't = should not
didn't = did not
could've= could have (NOT "could of"!)
'60 = 1960

3. To indicate plurals of lowercase letters

If your name is Philip, and somebody accidentally wrote it Phillip, you must say: "You wrote my name with two l's instead of one l."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Other Types of Research

Books, journal articles and online databases are the tools that we normally use when doing research. However, there are many other sources of information that can be useful to anyone writing a paper. Here are just a few other options that can be considered.

One lost art of research is using actual hard copies of newspapers as a source for a paper. When I was speaking with a history major, she reminisced on the days that she was stuck in the library sifting through old newspaper articles because they alone provided the information that was useful in her paper. Somehow this form of research has become somewhat of a history artifact in and of itself.

If you’re an education major observing can provide insight when reflecting on strategies that have been learned in the classroom setting. Sitting in on professional meeting can also benefit business majors, administration majors or anyone involved in professional major. When observing, make sure to always take notes, not only on the setting and reactions of those involved in your observation but also on your reactions to the experience.

Along these same lines, interviewing someone with experience within your discipline can provide inside information and expertise. Like observing in a professional setting, conducting an interview should be well planned and executed in a professional manner. When compiling questions to ask, make sure they are leading to the points that you are trying to gain from the encounter. Also be sure to include questions that are also open ended, which can lead to more explanation or deeper conversations. As always, make sure to take detailed notes while conducting the interview. Then when compiling all of your information, make sure to reflect on what you’ve learned and how using the interview is beneficial to your project.

Using questionnaires or surveys can also provide detailed information that will be useful to a paper or project. The focus and design of a survey will depend on what information you’re trying to gather, as well as the characteristics of the group you are surveying. This form of research can provide a wide range of information and could be very useful when drafting a paper based on a gap of information that you’re trying to address.

Though these aren’t the only other forms of research besides books and journal articles, they can provide information research avenues for many projects and your professional development.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Productive Procrastination

Seeing the words together--productive and procrastination--seems like a lie. Is it productive to procrastinate? You're not getting any work done by putting it off.

And now the proverbial "or are you?"

As I began this post, I wasn't practicing what I'm about to preach. I started this days ahead of time, getting cracking just a couple days after I wrote my last post. But then I stopped a sentence in.

"Why?" you ask befuddled.

"Because," I begin wildly, "I can!" But then I realize that that is not the answer you want, nor the answer that you need. But truthfully, deep down, you know the answer: I just didn't feel like continuing. I could give a multitude of excuses like how I began to doubt how much I wanted to talk about procrastination or how I had to combat a zombie that wandered into the writing center without a paper to pick brains about, only an insatiable hunger to pick my brains out. While I would rejoice at the opportunity to survive the zombie apocalypse, I must shamefully admit that that is not the case. The reason why I did not finish the post right then and there was because I lost interest and felt just a little bit lazy.

You're looking at me scornfully, and I can understand why, but let me defend myself. As you can see, I did not simply neglect this piece. I'm typing away at it this very moment. I didn't forget about it. I just wanted some time away from it, away from a keyboard and a blinking cursor, away from the pressure of writing a spectacular post that will make you forget everything you knew about procrastination.

I did it just to prove a point.

Procrastination can be a valuable tool. I see that quizzical cocking of the head to the side--my pug does that when I say, "treat." But Pavlovian behavior aside, I'll repeat myself: procrastination can be a valuable tool. We all do it but I don't think we realize the power we wield by doing so, er, or not doing so.

Time away from a paper doesn't necessarily mean we should block it out of our consciousness altogether. In fact, I argue that it's downright impossible to forget about a paper we're working on unless of course we have several other papers weighing down on our shoulders like Atlas holding a big paper mache globe but instead of countries there's words or huge expanses of white space and...

But I digress. We think about our assignments even when we're away from them, and that's a beautiful thing. We think of all the different ways of wording a sentence or other avenues of research we can take in our particular piece. We think of these things while walking from class to class, taking a shower, or playing a gentlemanly game of croquet. We're away from the piece so some of the pressures are relieved. By mentally reworking the paper, we're not obligated to set any of this in stone, or ink for that matter. Then when we return to the piece we can come back with fresh ideas and a fresh pair of eyes like we're coming back to an old friend who could or could not use an overhaul makeover. Then we can give it highlights or snip the hair here and there--make it more readable and coherent.

Word of warning: when one procrastinates, do so in moderation. Do not wait until the last minute to return to the piece or you won't have enough time to perform said makeover and the pressure will be on to make it all pretty. Then you'll screw up the makeover haircut and nobody will want to look at it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thursday Workshop Series

"Writing with Sources: APA Style"

October 20th from 3:30 to 4:00pm in the Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall)

The focus of this workshop will be using the APA documentation style.  We will examine different sources within that context in a fun and informative way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Colon Cleansing

The truth about the colon is hard to grasp. In order to get acquainted with the colon, you first have to know the basics. Sometimes a person can invite a colon over and the situation gets awkward. You really didn't know what you were getting in to. You just thought that the colon looked nice today, and now you're stuck with this thing in the middle of your sentence that you're not sure what to do with. Is it the right time? Maybe the colon isn't what you thought it was. Here is some basic information about the colon so that next time you see those sideways headlights you will be prepared:

1. Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as for example, such as, or namely do not appear. Think of the colon as a gate.

example: I want the following items: peas, a puppy, and knowledge of colons.

2. Use the colon after an independent clause when introducing a quotation.

example: My grocer's remark about me was complimentary: "She's here all the time. She always buys lots of q-tips and doughnuts....every time... q-tips and doughnuts."

3. Use a colon between two independent clauses when you want to emphasize the second clause.

example: I don't understand why anyone shops at that store: the grocers always stare awkwardly at people.

NOTE: There are some similar situations where a colon wouldn't fit. You would not put a colon after the verb in the sentence, since the phrase that precedes the colon must be an independent clause. You would not include a colon in sentences such as the following:

Her favorite food was chocolate ice cream.
His recipe included fish, peanut butter, and ham-flakes.

Since these sentences include words like included and was, and "Her favorite food was" is not an independent clause, there is no colon necessary.

Now that you know a couple of uses of the colon, you can use it with style and confidence!

You can also use it to make that gate.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Successful Research: Note Taking

Brainstorming ideas and outlining are strategies that can help in organizing a paper. But how do you even get there in the first place? When reviewing multiple sources for a paper of any kind, taking careful, detailed notes will not only help you find the support that you’ll need in your paper, but also help with the organization of a draft. Here are a few helpful ideas on note taking when dealing with source material.

How Do You Take Notes From a Text You Can’t Write On?

- Sticky notes: Sticky notes can help mark useful passages that you want to later reference in your paper. Along with marking a particular point within the book, writing a word or phrase on sticky notes can help you connect and summarize the points that are important. I don’t want to spend actual money on sticky notes so I use small pieces of paper to mark the spot in a book. See, you don’t have to buy them if you don’t want to!

- Taking notes on paper: It’s helpful to take detailed notes of main points that you might later use when drafting your paper. If you’re not a detailed note taker, then just writing a page number on paper or a particular quote will help jog your memory.

- Note cards: Jotting down quotes and main ideas along with the reference information on notecards can make ideas easier to locate when drafting a paper. This way, the information is all in one place, and can even be useful when deciding how to organize the ideas for a draft. Note cards allow you to visually shuffle information.

Taking Notes On Printed Sources

- Highlighting and underlining: Highlighting and underlining can help you reference particular words or phrases that you plan to expand upon in a draft. Making notes in the margins will make it easier for you to pick out points that you want to use in your paper. These notes can later become points that you want to make in your paper.

Starting the search for sources early can only benefit your paper in the end because you’ll have time to effectively take notes. Though the process can take more time, making sure that you pick out points within research to support your ideas will only help when beginning to draft your paper.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Citation Spotlight: CBE Style

In my experience, the two major players in the world of citation styles have always been those of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA). With my background as an English major, MLA is what you could call "my jam"; it's the style I'm most comfortable with and it makes a far more sense than that rage-inducer APA. But APA is far more widely used than MLA, as MLA is used solely in the field of English and literary studies, unlike APA which is used in basically everything else.

There are other styles, of course. You have Chicago and Turabian, two styles that if you showed me examples of the two I would have no clue which was which. And then there's the Council of Biology Editors (CBE) citation style, which up until the last couple months I had no idea existed.

Ten points to the person who guesses what disciplines it's used for.

Being the inquisitive type, I looked into this mysterious citation style. I began my search on the Purdue OWL website, but I found my search fruitless; the OWL focuses primarily on MLA and APA, the two most commonly used citation styles in the United States.

A Google search, however, yielded far more results. Google compiled 1.6 million results (in an astonishing .17 seconds!) for "cbe citation style," the first ten of which all were websites containing the ".edu" domain suffix. What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means it's legit--".edu" screams credibility.

Further research into CBE showed similarities between CBE and APA, not terribly surprising considering the pervasiveness of APA among science writers. An example provided by the Frederick Douglass Library at University of Maryland Eastern Shore gives the example for citing a book by a single author:

Li TSC. 2000. Medicinal plants: culture, utilization and

phytopharmacology. Lancaster (PA): Technomic. 517p.

Those familiar with APA will notice that certain APA conventions are followed. For example, the title of the book is listed in a similar manner as APA as only the first word of the title has its first letter capitalized. Additionally, first names are initialed as opposed to MLA, which requires the full name of the author. Structurally, the two styles follow the same order of author-to-year-to-title, sharing an emphasis on dates in which the works are published.

Curiously, however, CBE diverges from APA in that it abandons the punctuation following the author's last name, as well as after each initial of her first name. Also, CBE places an importance on where the book was published.

Citation styles continue to evolve and separate like single-cell organisms. Though you may have memorized a particular style a couple of years ago, the moment a new edition comes out all you knew may be torn asunder. Keeping updated with stylebooks can get to be expensive, however, so the most ideal way to keep in touch with the latest changes in your favorite citation style is to pay attention to Purdue's OWL or do a simple Google search.

Further reading and citations:

"How to Cite Using CBE" from the University of Maryland - Eastern Shore

"CBE Citation Style" from the University of Maine at Farmington

"Council of Biology Editors Citation Style" from the University of Wisconsin - Madison

Friday, October 7, 2011

Slippery Punctuation and an Ostrich

(Take a deep breath........Read!)

Sometimes it’s hard to tell where to place a period because it seems as though all of the thoughts sort of run together due to the fact that I am writing one thought after the other and these thoughts just seem to be trickling out of my head without pause so where should I put this period at, I don’t know? Oops, it didn’t even turn out to be a period, it was a question mark, but I thought that the beginning of the sentence should have had a period and then it took a turn in another direction and all of the sudden: BAM: there’s a question mark and what am I supposed to do about it? Oh, no! Another one! And exclamation points! I can find where to put this period maybe I could put it in my sock drawer so that when it’ll never get out and I’ll know just where it is at all times but then what if it sneaks away? It did it again! I want all of my sentences to mold together into one giant sentence that lasts three pages long so that the reader can never take a breath and their face will turn blue and they might even fall over because I couldn’t find my period it wasn’t where I left it oh, there it is.

NOTE: This run-on sentence was not picked up by Microsoft Word.

NOTE: Run-on sentences are also called fused-sentences

What is a run-on sentence?

A fused sentence, or a run-on sentence occurs when two main clauses are connected without punctuation. Comma splices fall under the same category because they are sentences that aren't punctuated correctly. If you see that your sentence runs on for three or more lines, or if you have a hard time reading it without turning blue in the face, then consider revising it. If your sentence seems like a question and a statement, consider separating it into both with the proper punctuation. Remember, the most important thing in all of this is that what you are trying to say comes across as clearly as possible. Other times you will find that you have an incomplete sentence. The best place to find the rest of it is on either side of the period or punctuation. This is where it usually hides, like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

"Hey, Larry, is it safe yet?"