9 Important Basics of College Writing (Or Any Good Writing, For That Matter)
I’m new to the studyblr community and haven’t properly introduced myself yet. I’m Carolyn, a fourth year graduate student (even grad students need motivation–maybe especially grad students need motivation). For my first two years of graduate school I also taught a Freshman composition course that focused on writing skills (analytical and creative) and critical thinking. This is my first “advice” post, and it is actually from a handout I have given my students. I really hope you find it helpful. (Note: I wrote it with the help of my friend, also a college instructor.)
IMPORTANT BASICS OF COLLEGE WRITING
I. Formatting: Microsoft Word is the Devil
For this course, in particular, I require all formatting to be 12 point Times New Roman, double
spaced, 1” margins, left-justified, last name & page number in the upper right corner of every page,
and your name/date/course/professor in the upper left corner of the first page only. This is also a
widely accepted conventional formatting for college papers. Also, according to me and to most
citation methods, titles should be centered but not be bolded, underlined, italicized or in a bigger
font than the body text. All titles should be thoughtful and give a sense of what, specifically, you’ll
be addressing. Titles are more important than, at first, you might think.
Microsoft Word insists on using Calibri for the default font. Calibri will never replace Times New
Roman in academia. TNR is pretty much universally accepted in academic writing. Also, MS Word
insists on putting an extra space between paragraphs, which is just wrong! Go to your advanced
settings to fix this.
Never use a template. All writing should be unique and therefore have no need for a template.
Templates are just fetters that guarantee formulaic writing.
II. Content: Avoid Fluffy Language
Perhaps this is a symptom of trying to meet page minimums: students fresh out of high school tend
to inflate sentences with meaningless/unnecessary adjectives. For example: “Depression affects
people in various ways.” What follows a sentence like this is usually a cataloging of the
various/numerous/diverse ways in which depression affects people. Kill the middleman: that useless
sentence. Be assured that a multiplicity/myriad of readers are astute enough to catch that depression
affects people in an abundance/multitude of ways when you list said scores/host of ways.
Writing that sounds like that of a motivational speaker is maddening to most college instructors. “If
you are true to yourself, you will be happy in life.” “Friends and family are the most important way
to get the emotional support you need.” These are boring platitudes and are overly generalized. Are
they really true, anyway? Broad claims make for bad writing; be specific and back up your claims
with a logical argument, providing evidence for your opinion.
And avoid broad generalizations. Period. Sentences like “Since the dawn of time, people have loved
art” are just meaningless padding and detract from any original and interesting ideas you may have.
AND NEVER QUOTE THE DICTIONARY.
III. Description: Be Concrete and Concise
An easy way to avoid vague fluff is to use concrete images and concise language. First, if you can
say something in five words instead of ten, that’s great! Go with the five. Second, concrete detail
provides a more refined image in the reader’s mind (car vs. Ford Taurus) without the use of
adjectives and adverbs. And please avoid adverbs when you can. Show how a person is running
“quickly” instead of telling the reader the person is running quickly. Is there sweat? Is this person bumping into others? Are the legs pumping like pistons? Specificity makes for much more
IV. Organization: Organize!
The best thing about outlines is that you ultimately do not have to follow them. Many people think
during the drafting process and come up with their best idea in the middle of the paper. But often
the papers that are turned in are first drafts, so that good idea—around which you ought to have
centered your paper—remains in the middle, not standing front and center, lacking enough space to
develop further. If you’ve allowed yourself enough time to make a second/final draft, post-organize
your paper. Map out the flow of your ideas and ask yourself if this is the best order and arrangement
possible. Yes, revision is more work, but it is worth it. It is so, so, so obvious to professors when a
paper has not been properly organized.
V. Grammar: Comma Splices
The most common grammatical error college students make is the comma
splice. A comma splice is the attachment of two sentences with only a comma. For example:
“Harvey and Tim built a raft, they took it out on the river later.” ARGH. “Harvey and Tim built a
raft” is a complete sentence, as is “they took it out on the river later.”
How do you fix a comma splice? Well, there are three ways:
Use two separate sentences: “Harvey and Tim built a raft. They took it out on the river later.”
Add a conjunction after the comma: “Harvey and Tim built a raft, and they took it out on the river later.”
Use a semicolon: “Harvey and Tim built a raft; they took it out on the river later.
Standard/Edited American English grammar is the grammar of academia and will be for a while. No
one is about to change that anytime soon, so you might as well use it to succeed in college. Also,
simply, spelling and grammar mistakes only work to undermine your writing. If you have brilliant
ideas, you shouldn’t obfuscate them with lousy grammar.
VI. Language: Build Your Vocabulary
What does “obfuscate” mean? Well, when you encounter unfamiliar words, look them up and
commit their meaning to memory. Practice using them, when appropriate. Of course I don’t
encourage you to bloat your language so that your prose reads like a thesaurus. Your writing should
sound intelligent/formal (with the help of new words), yet not awkward and stiff with the clumsy
handling of “big” words.
VII. Scoring: Read What You Write Out Loud
Listening to your own writing will help you determine if it sounds stiff and/or unnatural or just
awkward as hell. You can read your writing aloud to yourself, but it is best to hear another person
read it. I refer to this section as “scoring” because writing has a musical aspect, too. Your use of
language should be pleasing, made so by choosing the right word for the right moment, by opting for combinations of words that sound harmonious, and so that your delivery of ideas is arranged to
have the most powerful impact. Choose a tone suited to your subject, and know thy audience. What
will sound good to you may not sound so good for your intended audience. Adjust the score
VIII. Research: Do More of it Than You Think You Need To
Often you will be assigned a minimum number of sources for a research paper. Let’s say five, for
example. Go for eight or nine. Of course you should avoid using redundant sources (a book on
Samuel Beckett’s stage directions and journal article about Samuel Beckett’s stage directions). Find
as many perspectives as possible; it’ll only make your arguments stronger. Plus the more academic
writing you read, the more naturally it’ll come when you have to do your own.
IV. Ideas: Go Weird or Go Home
Another reason more sources than required can help: finding unique perspectives/approaches to a
subject. You may encounter some ideas that counter popular assumptions (peer pressure has some
positive impacts; depression can sometimes benefit cognitive function; anti-drug education actually
increases drug use). Another interesting tack to take is to go with a subject that often makes people
uncomfortable, such as child sexuality, masochism, and alternatives to capitalism.
Strange, uncommon arguments are more interesting than broader overly researched topics, such as
nature vs. nurture. A paper on the deliberate use of plot holes, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and
their effect on narrator reliability would be far more interesting than the representation of capitalism
in Animal Farm by George Orwell. The more complex and difficult the argument you choose the
more critical thinking/writing skills you demonstrate. Weirdness is rewarded in academia, by
getting your professor’s attention, by getting published in critical journals, etc. In this case, the
axiom of “Be unique, and stand out in the crowd” stands true.
And if you don’t believe me, here is what the best of the thinkers/writers in the business have to
“The value of thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar.”
“To work is to undertake to think something other than what one has thought before.” —Michel Foucault
“If you are not coming to put into question everything you do, I don’t see why you’re here.“
— Jacques Lacan
If you have any questions or want to chat further, please feel free to send an ask or message me!
08/15 ~ My latest stationary haul since I start my last semester next week and I FOUND STAEDTLERS!!!! IN AMERICA!! They literally have been sitting in my amazon wishlist for weeks and finally I got them. Ima go write every word I know (all of this for under $50!!)
“Carving is interrelated masses conveying an emotion; a perfect relationship between the mind and the color, light and weight which is the stone, made by the hand which feels.”
Happy Birthday to sculptor Barbara Hepworth, born on this day in 1903!
Hepworth took inspiration from organic forms and her compositions mimic the rhythm and flow of water-smoothed rocks, caves, and ancient hills. “Figure for Landscape” (1960) is on view in our sculpture garden, have you seen it at different times of day? Sunlight creates varied effects, and the openings allow for the surrounding landscape to become part of the artwork.
My friend and coworker down in fishes brought this guy to my attention. I photographed it not terribly long ago but I guess I completely missed the fact that it had this enormous tapeworm dissected out of it. Beautifully preserved fish. Beautifully dissected. Beautifully preserved tapeworm. We tend to do dissections only on the right side of the fish so that we always have an intact side for photographing and reference. The last picture I’m including in case, like me, you like to see things float into organically nice (if messy) compositions.
So I decided to delete the last 2 posts and post something a little more organized along with compositional call-outs and the final image.
Step 1: Rough Thumbnail Sketch Probably the most important step in the whole process. Here is where the foundation of the whole image is created. If this step doesn’t work no amount of cool rendering will fix it. There is room however to make adjustments later on in the process, but you will need to start with something compositionally strong first. I illustrated 3 basic compositional tools above that help set up an interesting composition.
- Large, Medium, and Small shapes create variety and interest. We like and are attracted to variation. I illustrated this with colored circles over my painting. In all your designs, including characters, try to incorporate a large shape, a medium shape, and a small shape. At least one of each.
- The Rule of Thirds is a tried a true method of creating an interesting balanced compositions. It is used heavily in all forms of image making.
Directing the Eye: All of the elements in your painting must be used to direct or corral the eye towards your focal point. My focal point was the dragons egg. Every shape or group of shapes points or directs my the eye towards that dragons egg. You can even use elements of your painting to block the eye from wondering away from what you want to say. Like that piece of seaweed I used on the far right of the image. I’m telling your eye, “ No, not that way. Look over there.” There are A LOT of different ways to approach composition. This is just one way. Hans Bachers: DreamWorlds book is a great resource for more details on composition. Check it out! Super informative book. I won’t go into more details about how or why I used them but I thought I would give you an example of how they can be used and were used in this image.
Step 2: Value/Color study and Flat Color block in
Once I have a composition I like I begin by blocking in solid colors for each element of the painting. No rendering or cool texture at this point. Just flats. This helps me to control the colors and shapes to be set up for a more graphic approach.
Step 3: Clarifying Silhouettes The silhouettes should be pretty clear after step 2, but just incase they are not I take extra care at this point to make sure nothing is difficult to read or confusing. If you start with good silhouettes you can always soften or strengthen their contrast later when we start using lighting to direct the eye.
Step 4: Lighting I don’t do much traditional rendering in paintings like this but this would be the point where I would begin defining the light side and shadow side of an image. For this painting I wanted to maintain most of my graphic shapes and only do minimal rendering. I was able to do this by breaking up the graphic shapes into lighter or darker colors. The dragons for example have a lighter underbelly and darker backs. This along with the line work is enough to give it form. Lighting in this painting was mainly accomplished through the shapes silhouette and subtle tonal gradations. I used flat graphic shapes that are lighter towards the light source and darker as they move away from the light to provide the depth making sure to separate the foreground, mid-ground and background with different tonal values. This was enough to give us our lighting.
Step 5: Texture and details This step is basically about giving each element a subtle patterning to give it another lever of sophistication and life to the image.
That’s about it. After the composition is set up I just bounce around the image making small or large adjustments to shapes and adding or removing light, that ultimately helps lead the eye towards my focal point, the dragon egg.
Imagine if there was a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy entry for Cybertronians tho
“Some wonder what would happen if robots had emotions. They are fools. Many robots have emotions. Cybertronians are examples of what
happens when robots have too many emotions and no idea how to deal with them in
a healthy manner. Usually it involves wars, drinking, and pop music.”
“You’d think being incredibly long-lived robots that
can turn into all sorts of cool shit would be really awesome, but as most Cybertronians can attest, it’s often more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Much like any other race, Cybertronians are usually friendly…after you’ve given them something shiny. Or have gotten them extremely drunk.”
“Many Cybertronians thought of their race as superior to
other species, particularly those of organic composition, who they believed to
be violent, backwards, and really quite stupid in general. After several wars
lasting millions of years, they realized they were actually quite mistaken, as
organic species may be vicious, bloodthirsty, amoral, selfish, and enjoy slaughtering
each other for slightly different ideals from time to time, but at least they
know how to do all of that without driving themselves to extinction, which Cybertronains quickly realized they did not.
Organics 1, Cybertronians 0
there are certainly disadvantages to being an ancient,
mentally and emotionally static species with no sustainable reproductive cycle
and a tendency to not live out that incredibly long life span to it;s
"Some turn to their god, Primus for answers. Unfortunately, he’s been taking an obscenely long nap and his body is currently
being used as their home planet, or so the story goes. others think this is
ludicrous, that there is no Primus, and that that deep dark cavern that
supposedly leads to a chamber where one can communicate literally face to face
with their god isn’t worth checking out in the slightest. There have naturally been many wars about this also.”
i need a distraction please i really don't want to cut can you tell me about the stars
I have this little window ledge in my dorm where I sit every night before I go to bed. I think about who I am and where I want to go. There are mountains surrounding me that I hope to find the time to climb. It snows a lot here so I can’t always see the stars. I know they’re there though, and when I get to see them even for a moment I’m reminded of how sometimes we just have to wait for the beauty in our lives to reappear. Then I think about how all the elements on our planet come from the stars. Our specific composition as organic beings came from stars that were still thriving. You think the stars are breathtaking, and that these celestial beings bring beauty into a life you find unlivable. But you are the stars from long ago and you are the beauty in your own life. Stay alive.
Hello! Happy new year everyone! :) None of my plants at home are doing anything interesting at the moment, so here are some lichens I found on a tree in Stanton Moor in Derbyshire. Lichen aren’t plants, instead they are a composite organism of a fungus and an algae and/or cyanobacteria. They are not parasites, and only use trees as a substrate; they often grow on rocks too. The more remote a location you can get to, the cleaner the air and thus the more interesting and beautiful species can be observed.
I’m not an expert (but I’m hoping to be), but I think here we have Physcia tenella, Parmelia sulcata, Evernia prunastri and Ramalina farinacea.
Woman at a Piano (c.1870s). Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931). Oil on panel.
The interior décor resembles that of other Boldini works, including another Woman at a Piano. The gleaming wood of the instrument with its gold candelabra, the floral pattered rug, and bright blue upholstered chair appear in both paintings, suggesting this is a space Boldini knew well. In the carefully-organized composition, expressive brushwork invigorates the scene.