Friday, September 30, 2011

Comma Police

Comma police, arrest this man
He talks so fast
He introduces me
Without using punctuation

Comma police, arrest this girl
She doesn’t see
Her introductory phrase
Sets the stage
For the rest of the sentence

This is what you get
This is what you get
This is what you get
When you use less of us

Comma police, I’ve done it once or twice
I may have left one out
But commas are important
I see that now

This is what you get
This is what you get
This is what you get
When you use less of us

When introducing you, I use a comma
In an introductory phrase, I use a comma

And now for your listening pleasure:

This is what The Purdue OWL says about introductory phrases:
  • Introductory clauses are dependent clauses that provide background information or "set the stage" for the main part of the sentence, the independent clause. For example: 
    • If they want to win, athletes must exercise every day. (introductory dependent clause, main clause) 
    • Because he kept barking insistently, we threw the ball for Smokey. (introductory dependent clause, main clause)
NOTE: We see this type of sentence in the Radiohead song.

Also, if you are introducing a person, use a comma.

Example: My neighbor, Barack Obama, sings in the shower.

If he didn't sing off key, I wouldn't mind so much...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Avoid Stress by Starting Early

Much of the time people think about how to start papers and worry if they will meet professor’s expectations and the like. Writing rough drafts is very important and an aspect of writing a paper that doesn’t get as much of attention as it should, especially when you’re just starting out in the college experience. My advice, draft!

The idea of drafting can be very daunting and quite scary. It does involve starting early, brainstorming in advance, and doing research right off the bat. All of this combined can be really overwhelming. This is something that your professors understand. So most of the time, you’ll get assignments for bigger papers early. Once that happens, it’s all in your hands from there.

Once you get an assignment, do whatever form of brainstorming that works for you. Whether it is actually writing a draft, composing bullet points, cubing, or another brainstorming method, starting this process early will help your final draft down the road.

Once you have done some brainstorming, take the time to actually outline and plan out a draft. If starting on a rough draft right away works, then do that first.

After drafting, if time allows, step away from the draft. Work on other homework and do something relaxing before revisiting the draft for editing or adding to the paper. Before you feel like you have your finished product, make sure and go through the process of editing and revising. 

Hopefully the idea of creating multiple drafts of your paper before it is due will help with the process of solidifying the paper and making sure that you follow the assignment. My best advice is START EARLY!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Our First Thursday Workshop Approaching Soon!

"The Hardest Part of Writing: Strategies for Getting Started"
Thursday, September 29, 3:30-4:00PM
The Writing Center is offering a workshop to assist students in the pre-writing process or what happens before you write: "The Hardest Part of Writing: Strategies for Getting Started."  The workshop will be held on Thursday, September 29, from 3:30-4:00PM.  The focus of this workshop will be pre-writing and brainstorming strategies that help writers generate ideas and support.  We hope to see you there! 

Give Me Writing, or Give Me Death

Freewriting--we all do it, but do we do it enough? It's one of the most valuable prewriting strategies we have at our disposal, but do we treasure it as much as we ought to? Maybe it's the difficulty sitting down and just spewing words across the page that pulls us away from utilizing freewriting. Or maybe it's the comfort in knowing that we've got no reason to rush; the words will still be there when we lift our pens or take our hands from the keyboard, barring some freak accident in which we lose a computer or notebook.

But say the words weren't there long after you stopped typing or writing. Say the words just deleted themselves out of existence as if you held Ctrl + Z down for a prolonged amount of time. The only way to protect your words is to keep writing. Dawdle too long and some unseen force will gobble up your words like deviled eggs.

Fellow writing consultant Stephen Jefferies brought to my attention the website Write or Die, which brings such a nightmare to life. Designed by "Dr Wicked" (unknown whether he's a medical doctor or just has his PhD), Write or Die offers you a field in which you can write and pray that you stay productive enough that you don't lose your precious letters.

You begin by selecting a Word Goal--the number of words you plan to make it to. Achieve this goal and your words are protected. Then you select a Time Goal--a time limit to beat. Then there are varying consequences: "Gentle Mode," "Normal Mode," "Kamikaze Mode," and "Electric Shock Mode." Then you have three options for "Grace Periods": "Forgiving," "Strict," and "Evil."

"How masochistic!" you exclaim.

"Yes!" I concur, "but with the pain comes reward!" Write or Die essentially lights a fire under your seat; wait too long and you lose everything, and by everything I mean every word you so desperately generated. You have no time to pause, no time to breathe, no time to even blink. Waste too much time and time will waste your words.

If you wish to support Dr Wicked, you can purchase the "Desktop Edition" for $10, or if you'd prefer your torture pro bono you can take advantage of the Write or Die Online option.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Squeaky Chairs

"Writer's Block" is a diagnosis for a writer's mental constipation. Although this term is so frequently used, I don't believe in it. The way that I see it, there are an infinite amount of words floating all around us, just waiting to be plucked from the air. When people say that they are experiencing writer's block, to me, that says one of two things: that they are either being too picky, putting too much weight to every word, or that they feel uninspired to write at all. Both of these are sad scenarios. One way to perpetuate writer's block is to blame it on forces outside of ourselves. This room is too... rectangle. This chair is too squeaky. I ate a cheeseburger for lunch. Cheeseburgers always make me tired. I can never write when Uncle Harry is in town. My computer keyboard has Cheetos stains on it. That shadow on the wall looks like a unicorn in the House of Representatives trying to answer a cell phone with a fire extinguisher. And the list goes on.

Once we realize that we can write anywhere, no matter how much of an acute angle our room makes, we will never struggle with blank pages again. One way to do this is to begin writing without expectations. Often, we have such a narrow idea of what we want our product to be that we don't allow the writing to just happen. Go with it. No matter what it is your writing, the key is just to start. The answer is in the act of doing, not complaining. In fact, I titled this blog without knowing how "squeaky chairs" were going to fit into a a blog about writer's block. Once you allow your ideas to flow through you, you will soon be amazed at the result. If you have a writing assignment, or are just pressuring yourself to write, then sit down and do it. Once you get into this habit, the term "writer's block" will seem like a fake doctor's note to you, too. So the next time that you have trouble writing, just sit down and start!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Writing Really is Everywhere!

Papers, papers, papers. They come in all different forms and styles, especially while you’re in your undergrad program at EIU. I remember thinking that just English majors wrote papers, and everyone else was home free, but I was very wrong. So I wanted to make sure that everyone realized how important the skill of writing is to your future career.

Regardless of your major the Writing Center here at EIU is here to help!

We don’t edit papers, but rather those of us that work in the Writing Center want to help writer’s gain skills that will help them create skills to help with other classes and the careers that you so choose. Because regardless of the place of employment that you end up in, writing will be an aspect of your job, even if it’s engineering or working maintenance.

At the Writing Center we will help you with any assignment that you may have that’s writing related. Here are some examples of the array of things we can help students with.


Lesson Plans

Case Studys

Research Papers in any area

Business Proposals

Aspects of writhing a thesis in a masters program

Grad School Application Essays

Essays for scholarship

Lab Reports

APA, MLA, Chicago citations

These are just few of the many areas of writing that you can get help with at the Writing Center.

So don’t be afraid or scared if you hear you have a lot of writing to do in a science class or any other class. Lab reports also require a lot of writing and analysis, and people at the Writing Center can help if you get confused on format or citing or just figuring out where to begin! The biggest help at times may be to also know that you aren’t alone. There are many other students out there who need help on their writing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Zen and the Art of Email

The text-messaging age has slowly drained the professionalism and clarity from digital communication these days. The informal nature of instant messaging and email between relatives and friends has caused the formal email as we know it to die a quiet and forgettable death.

Though you may be friendly to your professors, it may not be ideal to email them the same way you might email your cousin Mandy about the boy you met last week at the football game. The professor might have trouble deciphering the lol's and omg's that riddle the message, and that same professor may not even give a hoot about how that boy looks just like Owen Wilson.

Writing an email is not unlike writing a paper: you want to stick the point and make said point in as few words as possible. Pay attention to the language you use when writing an email. Obviously an email riddled with four-letter words will not put you on the professor's good side, so do try to be as polite as possible.

Most importantly, however, "think about what you're saying," as Eastern Illinois University's Professor of English Michael Leddy writes. Unless it's down to the wire, you might want to give it some time before you email a professor regarding the unfortunate grade you received on your presentation. This is not to say that when you write an email to a professor that you should take the time to plan and draft as you would a paper, but you should do everything in your power to ensure clarity and conciseness that will allow your professor to read and respond to the multitude of emails they receive on a daily basis.

Professor Leddy created a blog post back in 2005 in order to solve the growing epidemic of poorly-executed student-to-professor emails. In it are things to pull from to use outside of the academic world as well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Putting Yourself on the Page: How to End Your Writing with Applause, Not Snores

For some, the most difficult part about the writing process is getting started. If you find that you struggle with where to begin, there are a few things that you can do in order to have a smoother take-off and a more exciting writing process.

1. Writing what you know plays a big role in the writing process. Even though many papers we write will be discovery drafts, starting with what you know is an excellent way to get your ideas brewing. Let's say, for instance, you are a trapeze artist who wants to write a letter to the manufacturer of ladders. Although there has to be a certain amount audience awareness, the content of the letter is equally important. Tell the manufacturers your story. Why is the quality of this ladder so important to you and your career? Give specifics. If you are climbing up the ladder and it breaks, your act is in jeopardy. So give a detailed account of your situation. Make yourself stand out. Tell the story about how you've practiced since you were five. Make them laugh. Make them cry.

2. Try to avoid using generic words. People love Cocoa Puffs for a reason. They are the non-generic brand. They have a cute little bird named Sonny and a catch phrase. They aren't just "Chocolate Puffs" with a brown box and a promise of good cereal. The two cereals may be the same, but only one of them makes you go "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

3. Write what you love. Chances are, when you are writing about something that you truly care about, the reader will be more likely to acknowledge your integrity. Although sometimes we have to write about things that we don't particularly enjoy writing about, there is always a way to turn it into something you care about. Say, for instance, that I have to write about two poems that I don't particularly like, or that I didn't get. Try to find something in the poem that you enjoy: the image of a chicken, the subject of love or family, the time period it was written in, nature, Anything! There are infinite ways of exploring a poem and there is bound to be a way that suits you. Writing can always be one-size-fits-all. You can always connect to it because it is your creation. You are the one who gets to choose if your writing is as exciting as the return of your favorite TV show, or as dull as a plastic spoon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Revision: the Neverending Process!

Editing, grammar, voice, tense, sentence structure. What do they all bring to mind? That’s right, revision. Those are some but not all things that you should focus on when editing your paper along with following the assignment that’s give by your professor.

There are many strategies that you can utilize when going to edit a paper. First and foremost you should re-read your paper. It may seem monotonous because yes, you did write the paper, but even though there may have been a lot of forethought into a draft there are still many things you can catch by going back through it.

Reading aloud is also a really great strategy. This strategy of reading aloud can help you catch phrases that don’t make sense also causing you to look more closely at the grammar and mechanics of your paper. Reading it to yourself or another person can prove very helpful.

Along with reading aloud, reading a paper backwards can sometimes cause you to take a step back your work. It causes you to read your paper sentence by sentence and concentrate on it in sections instead of viewing your piece as a whole.

Important Points about Revision

Professors at Eastern are there to help you through your experience in college. When they list their office hours they don’t just do it to waste ink. Utilize the opportunity to meet with a professor one-on-one to discuss your paper regardless of its stage in the process of composition.

Most important is to draft your paper EARLY! Don’t start the revision process an hour before your paper is due. Make sure and complete the assignment and give yourself ample time to revise. Revision itself is a continuous process. It’s never complete because you can always go back and revisit some of your work, even if it means making small menial changes.

Though these are only some of the many strategies than can be used to revise, my best advice is to start revising early and never be afraid to try something new!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Upcoming Workshop

"Winning Proposals: Half the Sky Writing Contest Workshop"
Monday, September 19 @ 3:30 and 4:30
The Writing Center is offering a workshop to assist students interested in the EIU Reads contest: "Winning Proposals: Half the Sky Writing Contest Workshop." The workshop will be held on Monday, September 19, from 3:30-4:00pm and from 4:30-5:00pm. In these interactive sessions you will explore ways to make your proposals more persuasive. If you plan to attend either workshop, please provide your name and the workshop start time by emailing or by calling the Writing Center (581-5929).

For more information about EIU Reads and the contest, visit

Monday, September 12, 2011

What We Talk About When We Talk About Audience

"Filmed before a live studio audience." It's a phrase that introduced several sitcoms during the 1980's and '90's. The audience sitting in the sound stage of Cheers watched as the romantic tension unfolded between Ted Danson and Kirstie Alley or they listen to the philosophies of the beer-guzzling patrons of the Boston bar. The audience laughed when Cliff made a joke or childishly ooooo-ed when Sam and Rebecca exchanged flirtatious banter. The audience listened; the audience responded.

As writers, we have the responsibility to take note of the audience. The misconception for most students is that the only audience is their instructor. It's unsurprising, considering the main objective for the paper composer is not a clear concise paper, only one that provides a sufficient grade. It's difficult not to fall into that trap; we wish to appease the instructor so we write what he or she would like, or at least what we think he or she would like.

In truth, we never know what he or she would like for sure, save for the skeletal prescription offered by some syllabuses and writing assignment prompts, but sadly we limit ourselves to those parameters. While, yes, it is absolutely necessary to follow the instructions of a syllabus or prompt (there's more help there than you might think), we should strive to go a step further when writing a paper. We should think beyond the person at the podium and who else might read this. The initial thought may be that there is no one else who might read this, but that couldn't be further from the truth. A thoughtful paper will often be made an example for future writers, while the paper composed with less concerted effort will be forgotten or, in the rare worst case scenario, be made a cautionary example.

The easiest way to this may be to picture the reader before we begin composing, specifically when we're brainstorming ideas. If our first thought is our instructor, we must dash that image right out and start from scratch. Our audience will be dependent on our discipline--an economics paper will be intended for fellow economists, while a literary paper will be written with literature specialists in mind. While making such associations might be easy enough, the next part is easier said than done: we must think of a topic that will interest a large body of readers. While it will require more effort on our part, treating a paper less like an assignment and more like a work to be read by more than just our instructor will put us in a mindset for researching more and developing an unique and thoughtful argument about which to write.

Writing & You: How to Succeed at EIU

This workshop, part of the New Students Program workshop series, is aimed toward new students.  Attend on Tuesday or Wednesday to see what tips the writing consultants of the EIU Writing Center have for you!
  • Tuesday, September 13 at 7 p.m. in the Andrews Hall Basement
  • Wednesday, September 14 at 7 p.m. in the Copa Room in the basement of Carman Hall

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Misplaced My Modifier in San Francisco

Misplaced modifiers are words or phrases that alter the meaning of a sentence. When we say that a modifier has been misplaced, we mean that the word or phrase that the modifier is altering has been changed. We are dealing with sentence ambiguity when we have sentences with misplaced modifiers. A great example of a misplaced modifier comes from a quote by Groucho Marx. He says "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I'll never know" (Bartlett).

When you're done writing your paper, check for any sentence level ambiguity. One way of doing this is to start from the end of your paper and focus on one sentence at a time, starting with the very last one. This takes the sentence out of the larger context, so that you can focus on the clarity of the sentence.

Another example of a misplaced modifier is: "I like to listen to music doing my homework."

Is music doing your homework, or do you like to listen to music while you are doing your homework? One simple word can change the meaning of your sentence.

Another method of ridding your sentences of misplaced modifiers is to have somebody else look over your paper. Other people may catch ambiguity that you missed!

Bartlett, John. Kaplan, Justin, Ed. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 16th Edition. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1992, p 693.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Research, Research, Research!

Research has a different meaning than it did even ten years ago. Today we can jump on the internet and type something into the goggle search engine and find many different resources. Years past that wasn’t the case when trying to compile information, thus life is a little easier today. Libraries still flourish as the main source of information. Now we have databases online with scholarly articles as well as the ability to obtain hard copies of many printed materials.

Through the first years of college, research is a word that you’ll hear repetitively. While at first it may seem like a daunting task to sift through piles of information many tools are in place to make this process easier.

Booth Library is a great tool that should be utilized regardless of the type of research that you’re planning to do. Along with the hard copies of books, magazines, newspapers and journal articles, Booth has a link to many scholarly websites online that are free for all students to use.


These resources are provided to the students as tools to help with the process of writing. Along with being able to access the databases at Booth Library, students and faculty can also access the databases through the library when they’re off campus. Using the library number off your Panther Card, you are still open to the wide range of search engines that Eastern has provided through Booth Library.

Research may not be the end all be all of your college experience, but don’t be afraid to ask questions of the reference librarians or utilize the resources available to you while you’re attending Eastern. Professors don’t want the goggle definition for your main research topic, and they aren’t going to want you to rely on as your main source in a paper. The databases and resources to be found in the library are you’re best bet when writing academic papers!

Here’s a link to Booth Library’s website.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Going Primitive

As students of the digital age, the temptation is strong for us to want to draft our essays directly onto the computer. The instructor said she wants the final draft typed up, 12-point font, double-spaced with 1-inch margins. Mom and Dad dropped a stack of bills for that shiny new laptop with the latest word processing software on it, so you might as well use it, right?

Absolutely. The word processor is no doubt the single greatest invention since the wheel, offering a healthy alternative to deciphering the chicken scratchings of incoming freshmen writers so the instructor's eyesight stays in tact for a few more years and his sanity for almost as long. But should it be the first thing we go to when we get that assignment sheet? No, I think not.

Once upon a time, before the dawn of the Apple II or the advent of the typewriter, people used to write. Using everything from fountain pen to pencil, quill to chisel, folks would write their composition assignments using the most basic of implements.

Has physical writing fallen out of practice? Sadly, yes. Is it obsolete? Good heavens, no.

Maybe you're sitting at lunch with your notebook and pen sketching out a rough plan for your next essay. Great, you're nearly there. Don't pull out that silvery Macbook you got for graduation just yet. Leave that aside and do the unthinkable: write your draft.

The very thought might send your writing hand into a painful cramp, but trust me, there's something to this. Since high school and maybe even junior high school, we've been trained to not only type but type at blinding speeds. Instant messaging our friends at other universities has only made our fingers more limber to the point where we might be typing faster than we can produce thoughts.

By drafting your essay using pen and paper, you sever that connection between the computer and your brain that forces your fingers into hyperspeed. You are more careful and deliberate. You're reading it in your head as you write each word. You catch things that you won't have to catch when proofreading later. Most importantly, you have no Facebook or Youtube to distract you in a spiral college-ruled notebook.

We've fallen into the ease of composing assignments directly to the page, eliminating any extra steps so that we may maximize our free time to work on the multitude of assignments in our other classes. It only makes sense. But if you draft your essay by hand before your hands touch a keyboard, you'll cut down on time in the future when proofreading it. Why, you might even have a more perfect paper to turn in than if you hadn't written out with primitive pen and paper.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The OWL Purdue

The OWL Purdue is a wonderful writing tool for those of us getting acquainted with APA and MLA, and for those of us who continue to write in these styles. Contrary to what the name connotes, the OWL Purdue is not an owl that serves chicken. Rather, the OWL is an Online Writing Lab offered by the Purdue University English Department that walks you through the MLA and APA writing processes.

The OWL has a website that is easy to navigate. You can start by choosing MLA or APA and then search the OWL by the headings on the left side of the web page. These headings will explain the conventions of each writing style, whether you're trying to figure out how to cite within the text or how to format your Works Cited page.

The headings on the left also give you in-depth explanations on how to cite web pages, books, periodicals, and other common sources such as emails or podcasts. For those of you who are visual and tactical learners, there is also a sample paper for each style, which is especially helpful with APA.

Another benefit of using this website is that it remains up-to-date whereas the MLA and APA handbooks must be replaced every couple of years.

Just follow the link below and get started writing!