WIC Survival Guide Chapter 1: Writing to Learn

WIC Courses Use Informal Writing as a Tool to Learn Course Content

In the process of writing an assignment, jotting down notes, brainstorming on a paper topic, or doing any other informal writing, have you ever:

In all of these cases, you were using writing as a thinking and learning tool. In your WIC course, you'll do a good deal of writing-to-learn, both as a way of working with your course material and in order to practice new techniques for thinking and learning in your field.

 

TIPS:

You can use writing to learn on your own to generate ideas for writing assignments and to enhance your learning.

WIC Survival Guide Links:
Where to Begin
Department Writing Guides  
Managing Your Time
Research
Drafting
Citing Sources
Revising
Making Peer Review Work
Revising Your Draft
Eliminating Errors
Where to Get help with Writing
Checklist

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 2: Where to Begin

I Have A Written Assignment Due... Where Should I Start?

  1. Read the assignment. Look for key words that identify the task. Ask for help if you don’t understand what is expected.
  2. Understand what kind of document you are creating:
    • Is it a memo, a research paper, a different assignment type?
    • What are the characteristics and parts of this kind of document?
    • Is active voice or passive voice more appropriate?
    • Should you use bullets and sub-headings?
    • Will you need an appendix with tables?
  3. Be sure that the tone of the assignment reflects your audience. (Your audience isn’t always your instructor - it may be a client, other professionals, etc.)
  4. Understand the scope of the assignment (How should you limit your topic? How many pages? Do you need to do research? - check out the library's discipline research guides)
  5. Different people approach writing in different ways. If you know how you work best, you can save time:

    If you think and plan before you write. By the time you’re writing, you have a pretty clear idea of what you’re going to say.
    TIP: Make sure to schedule plenty of thinking time and then freewrite the ideas you've developed.

    If you start by writing. Your first draft is very rough, but you will re-think and revise.
    TIP: Make sure to schedule plenty of time for revisions.

    You think and write alternately. You start with a plan, but the process of writing stimulates more thought.
    TIP: Make sure to schedule an adequate amount of time for thinking and writing.

  6. If You’re Stuck: Try some pre-writing or brainstorming exercises!
    • Free write – write without stopping for 5 to 10 minutes about what you already know about the assignment topic. Let your ideas flow without worrying about structure or organization.
    • Jot down a list of related terms or ideas
    • Create an outline
    • Do some concept mapping
  7. If your assignment has specified sections, be sure to include each section in your paper. Also double check that all required parts of each section have been addressed.

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 3: Department Writing Guides

How to Write for Your Major

A number of departments at OSU have developed writing guides to help students understand the writing processes and products of the discipline. Make sure to use your department's guide if one is available.

Department of Anthropology
The Anthropology Department Writing Guide

Department of Chemistry
Writing Guide for Chemistry

Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program
Writing for Change

Department of Human Development and Family Sciences
Taking an HDFS View of the World

Department of Mathematics
Writing Mathematics

Department of Microbiology
Scientific Writing for Microbiology Majors

Department of Music
Writing Guide for Music


Department of Philosophy
Writing Philosophy Papers: A Student Guide

Department of Political Science
A Student Writer's Survival Guide

Department of Sociology
Turning Ideas into Researchable Questions
 

Other Guides for OSU Students

Design and Human Environment Learning & Style Guide.
Available at the OSU Bookstore.

Pedersen, E. (2004). The Design and Human Environment Learning & Style Guide.
(2nd ed.) Dubuque, IA, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.


Writing for Visual Thinkers: A Guide for Artists and Designers.

 A Guide for Artists and Designers is an e-book designed to help people who think in picturesa segment of learners that by some estimates includes almost 30 percent of the populationgain skills and confidence in their writing abilities.

To purchase click here. Writing for Visual Thinkers: A Guide for Artists and Designers.

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 4: Managing Your Time

Time-Saving Tips

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 5: Research

How to Find What You Need

Your previous research strategies may not be enough for you to succeed in your WIC course research assignment. Each discipline may have its own methodology, so don’t be afraid to ask your professor or your subject librarian for help. The OSU library has research tutorials that guide you through your research, as well as a general research guide for undergraduates, research guides by subject, and an A-Z list of databases.

At the university level, the kind of research you do and the sources you need are often defined by the type of assignment you’re given. Here is a list of media you may encounter during your research process:

Field research Lab research
Scholarly journals Internet
Magazines Books
Interviews Newspapers (older versions on microfiche)
Maps Government records
Films Videos
Documentaries Television
Surveys Archives


Students are sometimes frustrated when a source they want is not available from the library. If this happens, remember that you are able to order sources from the following:

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 6: Drafting

Putting Words on the Page

Nothing generates text except writing. If you’re thinking, reading, brainstorming, diagramming, etc., you’re not creating text. At some point, you must stop planning and start writing.

TIPS:

Writer’s Block:

If you are experiencing writer’s block, it can be comforting to know that you are not alone. These websites offer helpful advice on overcoming your writer’s block and understanding why you might develop writer’s block in the first place.

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 7: Citing Sources

Cite/document your sources according to the conventions of your discipline. Make sure to cite within your paper when you use the material, as well as including a bibliography or works cited.

All borrowed information must be cited. This includes not only direct quotations, but also paraphrases, summaries, charts, and graphs.


The following are common citation formats used. If you are unsure of what style to use, contact your professor.

Information on how to evaluate the accuracy and relability of internet sources can be found here.

Charts, Tables, and Figures

Don’t forget to reference your charts and tables. Here are some links on how to develop useful charts and figures as well as some links on how to reference charts, tables, and figures within a document.

Appendices

Some papers require an appendix. Appendices contain information that is not essential to body of the research paper. Such non-essential information may include:

These items are useful, but including them in the body of the research paper may detract from the main point. It is good to group extra material into sets, which means you may have more than one appendix. Be sure to give each appendix a number: Appendix 1, Appendix 2, etc.

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 8: Revising

Steps to Polishing Your Draft

Revising a draft into a polished paper requires more than a few simple grammar fixes. Revision involves obtaining feedback from other readers, ensuring the focus/content/organization of your paper is structurally sound, and fixing overall grammar mechanics. You can find more information about these steps below:

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 8A: Making Peer Review Work

What's So Good Abour Peer Review?

When you read your peers' papers you can...

  • Understand the assignment better
  • See how other writers responded to the assignment
  • Pick up writing strategies from other writers
  • Get to know someone better through their writing

When another student reads your paper you can…

  • Bounce your ideas off another person before they go to the teacher for grading
  • Step outside yourself to see your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer
  • Write for an audience larger than just the teacher
  • Hear where you need to clarify or develop your ideas

TIPS for Achieving a Successful Peer Review:

  • Respond in pencil—you may need to erase.
  • Ask the writer what he/she would like feedback on: a section they had trouble with, the introduction, conclusion, etc. Tell your reviewer the same.
  • Read the paper through once without a pencil in your hand, just to get the big picture. Then read it again.
  • Identify what was done well, what you liked about the paper, not just the problems. If you see a great sentence or idea, say so!
  • Ask yourself, “What two things would improve this paper most?” Then suggest them to the writer.
  • Remember that being too nice is not helpful, nor is being too harsh. You can be honest, but always be kind.

Group Peer Review from Hell:

A face to face group peer review can be a challenge. Here are some possible difficulties that can arise and means for troubleshooting them:

  • You can’t make sense of the paper.

    Try making an outline of it to help you see how the ideas are (or aren’t) connected.

  • The student who read your paper merely edited it by marking up grammar, spelling and punctuation. 

    Tell your reviewer that you aren’t concerned with the surface stuff—you can fix that later. You want help with the larger picture: organization, transitions, content.

  • You forgot the suggestions your group made.

    Take notes while they comment on your paper.

  • You hate peer review—that’s all there is to it. 

    Be fair to your classmates; go in with a positive attitude. Your comments could really help someone become a better writer. 
    Realize that giving feedback on writing is part of many careers. You need practice.

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 8B: Revising your Draft

Revision is a chance to re-work your paper at the major levels such as structure, content, and organization. Revision is not the same as editing or proofreading. Do your editing and proofreading after you have considered more global changes (such as structure, content, and organization).

Questions to ask yourself as you revise:


A Fresh Eye
Can I wait at least 24 hours between finishing my draft and going back to revise it?

Read through your paper several times, each time focusing on one of these areas:

Focus
Can a reader easily identify my “thesis statement?”
Do my thesis, paragraphs, and topic sentences all work together and deal with the same topic?
Do I avoid tangential information that might throw the reader off track?

Content/Development
Have I included all the parts or sections required by the assignment? 
Have I used examples, quotes, facts, figures, tables, or other supporting material to document and reinforce the main points in my paper? 
Have I properly documented all information borrowed from sources?

Organization 
Have I followed the organization articulated in the assignment? Does each part of the paper flow logically from the preceding part?
Have I used transitional words and phrases to guide the reader paragraph-by-paragraph and section-by-section?

Tone
Is the tone appropriate for my intended audience, neither too formal or informal? Is the tone consistent throughout the paper?

Format 
Have I followed the paper format specified in the assignment instructions? 
Is the format I've chosen compatible with the genre and content of my paper?

WIC Survival Guide 8C: Eliminating Errors

Errors in grammar and usage detract from your writing and may cause the reader to question your authority as a writer. Use these proofreading tips and edit for the twenty most common errors identified in a study by Lunsford and Connors.

Proofreading Tips

Read your paper aloud; it’s easier to “hear” the mistakes than to see them. Or, try reading your paper backwards, sentence by sentence. That way your mind will focus on the proofreading rather than the content.

Keep a log of the errors you make frequently and spend some time with a handbook or in the Writing Center in order to understand your frequent errors and correct them in your writing.

Check for Common Errors

The following is a list of common grammar errors. Examples that are specific to certain disciplines can be found here.

Comma Problems

Missing comma after an introductory element: Many sentences begin with one or more introductory elements—clauses, phrases, or single words that lead into the main body of the sentence. To show where an introductory element ends and the main part of the sentence begins (thus helping your readers move more easily through the sentence), insert a comma after the introductory element. If the sentence includes multiple introductory elements, use a comma after each one.

Incorrect: Collectively the cashew usually ranks as the third or fourth greatest nut of commerce (by mass) worldwide.

Correct: Collectively, the cashew usually ranks as the third or fourth greatest nut of commerce (by mass) worldwide.

Incorrect: If Shelly writes her report on Middlemarch, I will want to read it myself.

Correct: If Shelly writes her report on Middlemarch, I will want to read the novel myself.

 

Missing comma in a compound sentence: When two independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences) are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, so, yet, nor, or for) precede the conjunction with a comma to signal a pause between the two parts of the sentence. The pause gives pace to the sentence and helps prevent sentence misreadings.

Incorrect: Dividends were paid in 2001 but the company reported a net loss in income.

Correct: Dividends were paid in 2001, but the company reported a net loss in income.


Note: Be sure to distinguish between compound sentences, as defined above, and sentences that have two or more predicate phrases but only one subject. Sentences with a compound predicate do not take a comma between the two parts of the predicate. For example:

Incorrect: In 2001, the company both paid dividends, and reported a net loss in income.

Correct: In 2001, the company both paid dividends and reported a net loss in income.

 

Missing comma(s) with a non-restrictive element: Non-restrictive elements are words, phrases, and clauses that provide relevant information in a sentence but are not essential to the sentence’s basic meaning. Non-restrictive elements in a sentence should be set off (on both sides) with commas. In the following example, the non-restrictive element (a phrase modifying heterosis) is underlined. 

Incorrect: The opposite of heterosis or outbreeding is inbreeding. 

Correct: The opposite of heterosis, or outbreeding, is inbreeding.

 

Missing comma in a series: To avoid potential sentence misreadings, always insert a comma between the last two items in a three-or-more-item list. 

Incorrect: Gram, acid-fast and endospore staining are differential staining procedures. 

Correct: Gram, acid-fast, and endospore staining are differential staining procedures.

 

Comma Splice: Inexperienced writers sometimes combine two or more independent clauses (clauses that are capable of standing independently as separate sentences) into a single sentence by inserting a comma between the clauses. This error can be corrected in several ways:

  1. by separating the clauses into stand-alone sentences.
  2. by replacing the comma with a semicolon.
  3. by following the comma with a coordinating conjunction such as and, but, so, yet, nor, or for.
  4. by rewriting the sentence to subordinate or eliminate one of the independent clauses.

Incorrect: To believe that freedom of expression is universally available is naïve and unrealistic as the old saw goes, "The right to a free press belongs to those who own the press." 

Correct: To believe that freedom of expression is universally available is naïve and unrealistic. As the old saw goes, "The right to a free press belongs to those who own the press." 

or To believe that freedom of expression is universally available is naïve and unrealistic; as the old saw goes, "The right to a free press belongs to those who own the press." 

or To believe that freedom of expression is universally available is naïve and unrealistic, for as the old saw goes, "The right to a free press belongs to those who own the press." 

or To believe that freedom of expression is universally available is naïve and unrealistic, as acknowledged in the old saw that "The right to a free press belongs to those who own the press."

 

Extra Commas: Restrictive elements are words, phrases, and clauses that are essential to the basic meaning of the sentence. Do not set restrictive elements apart from the rest of the sentence with commas. In the following example, the intended message is not that all sociologists focus on urban social phenomena, but rather that those who do should read Simmel’s essay. 

Incorrect: Sociologists, who focus on urban social phenomena, should read George Simmel’s essay on “Metropolis and Mental Life” (1902-1903). 

Correct: Sociologists who focus on urban social phenomena should read George Simmel’s essay on “Metropolis and Mental Life” (1902-1903).

 

 

Sentence Problems

Fragments: A sentence fragment is an incomplete portion of a sentence that is punctuated as a full sentence. To correct this error, incorporate the fragment into the preceding or subsequent sentence, or rewrite the fragment as an independent clause. In some types of writing (for example, in fiction and journalistic writing), authors may incorporate fragments as a stylistic choice. In academic writing, however, the use of fragments is far less common. 

Incorrect: That brief but eye-opening visit to the research laboratory was a turning point in my career. Leading to my decision to pursue virus research.

Correct: That brief but eye-opening visit to the research laboratory was a turning point in my career, for it led to my decision to pursue virus research.

or That brief but eye-opening visit to the research laboratory was a turning point in my life. The experience led to my decision to pursue virus research.

 

Lack of Subject-Verb Agreement: The verb form used in a sentence may vary depending on whether the subject is singular or plural and whether the sentence is written in first-, second-, or third person. When you are looking for subject-verb agreement errors, be mindful that the noun closest to the verb may not be the subject.

Incorrect: That set of beliefs fly in the face of reason. 

Correct: That set of beliefs flies in the face of reason.


When the subject consists of two or more nouns connected by and, the subject is generally plural. However, when all parts of the subject refer to the same thing or person, the subject is considered singular (see the second example following). 

Correct: The men and women who belong to that sect still practice traditions that many of us today consider sexist and discriminatory. 

Correct: The sect's founder and leader promotes traditions that many of us today consider sexist and discriminatory. 

When the subject consists of two or more nouns connected by oror nor, verb agreement should be with the subject noun that is closest to the verb.

Correct: Neither the leader nor his followers adhere to the principal of free speech.

 

Run-ons: Fused, or run-on, sentences occur when clauses that could stand alone are joined with no linking words or punctuation. Correct this error in one of four ways:

  1. Separate the clauses into two (or more) sentences.
  2. Insert a semicolon between the clauses.
  3. Insert a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction (e.g. and, but, so, yet, nor, for) between the clauses.
  4. Rewrite the sentence to subordinate or eliminate one of the independent clauses.

 

Incorrect: We learn about life through our surrounding environment these learned lessons are only part of what shapes our future however. 

Correct: We learn about life through our surrounding environment. These learned lessons, however, are only part of what shapes our future. 

or We learn about life through our surrounding environment; these learned lessons are only part of what shapes our future, however. 

or We learn about life through our surrounding environment, but these learned lessons are only part of what shapes our future. 

or Although we learn about life through our surrounding environment, these learned lessons are only part of what shapes our future.

 

Misplaced or Dangling Modifier: To prevent sentence misreadings, place modifying words and phrases as close as possible to the word or words they modify. 

Incorrect: She understood better than ever that people are social creatures after reading the textbook. 

Correct: After reading the textbook, she understood better than ever that people are social creatures.

 

 

Verb Problems

Wrong or Missing Verb Ending: In spoken English, we sometimes either omit verb endings altogether or pronounce them inaudibly, but standard written English requires their use even when other information in the sentence implies these endings. Make sure that subject and verb agree (plural or singular) and that you are using the correct verb tense.

Incorrect: By "instrument," the actor mean her entire physical self--body and voice--that she use in performance. 

Correct: By "instrument," the actor means her entire physical self--body and voice--that she uses in performance.

 

Unnecessary Shift in Verb Tense: Unless you have a clear reason for doing otherwise, use the same tense for all verbs both within and across sentences.

Incorrect: Having studied the results, the sociologists report what they found. 

Correct: Having studied the results, the sociologists reported what they found.

 

Wrong Verb Tense: A verb must clearly show when a condition or action is, was, or will be completed. 

Incorrect: The stages of fruit development have included one in which ants were attracted to a specific region of the developing nut. 

Correct: The stages of fruit development include one in which ants are attracted to a specific region of the developing nut.

 

 

Word Choice

Using a Wrong Word: Most instances of this error arise from confusion or carelessness regarding homonyms or other words that either sound similar or have similar meanings. Wrong-word errors may also result from overly casual use of a thesaurus.( Be sure to consult a dictionary if you’re not sure of the exact meaning of a word you find in a thesaurus.) 

Incorrect: Are interest in cashew began in 1985 with the observation that both single and small groups of cashew trees nationalized around the Calicut district of Kerala, India, were visited by forging ants, spiders, and wasps. 

Correct: Our interest in cashew began in 1985 with the observation that both single and small groups of cashew trees naturalized around the Calicut district of Kerala, India, were visited by foraging ants, spiders, and wasps.

 

Wrong or Missing Prepositions: A sentence’s meaning may change depending on the preposition you use in conjunction with a verb or as part of a prepositional phrase. For example, the act of comparing something to something else involves looking for similarities among the two items; the act of comparing something with something else means registering both similarities and differences between the items. The acts of meeting at or in an intersection have different implications, as do the acts of talking around, about, or through an issue. 

Incorrect: We compared the communities within the biome with one another to identify their common traits. 

Correct: We compared the communities within the biome to one another to identify their common traits.

 

Vague Pronouns: Readers should be able to easily identify a pronoun's antecedent (that is, the specific word or phrase to which the pronoun refers). If the antecedent is unclear (either because there is more than one possible pronoun reference or because the word to which the pronoun refers is implied but not actually stated in the text), you need to make the reference more explicit. 

Incorrect: Although what draws people to theatre and playwriting ultimately remains a mystery, several conditions seem to encourage it. 

Correct: Although what draws people to theatre and playwriting ultimately remains a mystery, several conditions seem to encourage this attraction.

 

Incorrect Pronoun Choice: When you use a pronoun reference in a sentence, make sure that you use the same pronoun for all subsequent references in the sentence. The most common example of pronoun shifting is the shift between one and I, you, or we. 

Incorrect: You can use return-on-assets to measure profitability, but one must consider other ratios as well. 

Correct: You can use return-on-assets to measure profitability, but you must consider other ratios as well.

 

Pronoun / Antecedent Agreement: When you use a pronoun (such as you, him, she, their, it) in place of the noun to which it refers (called the pronoun’s antecedent), make sure the pronoun agrees with its antecedent in both gender and number. 

Incorrect: All species within a given ecological community has its own niche. 

Correct: All species within a given ecological community have their own niche.


Note that the words eacheveryone (and often either and neither) are singular and therefore require singular pronoun references. Also, singular noun antecedents joined by or or nor require a singular pronoun. 

Incorrect: Within a given ecological community, each species has their own niche. 

Correct: Within a given ecological community, each species has its own niche.


Some noun antecedents (for example, “ecologist” or “researcher”) are non-gender-specific; that is, they may refer to both males and females. When you use this type of antecedent in its singular form, pronoun references to the antecedent must acknowledge both genders. You have several options for establishing pronoun agreement with non-gender-specific nouns: 

  1. For every pronoun reference, use “him and her," “she and he,” etc. Some writers find this awkward and choose instead to alternate between male and female pronoun references either paragraph by paragraph or section by section.
  2. You can change the sentence wording to make the antecedent (and therefore the pronoun) plural.
  3. You can simply get rid of the pronoun. All three solutions are illustrated here.

 

Incorrect: An ecologist generally spends a portion of his work week in the field.

Correct: An ecologist generally spends a portion of his or her work week in the field. 

or Ecologists generally spend a portion of their work week in the field. 

or An ecologist generally spends a portion of the work week in the field.

 

 

Apostrophe Problems

Missing or misplaced possessive apostrophe: Possessive nouns (nouns that indicate possession of something else) generally have an apostrophe-s ending if singular (e.g. sociologist's or Davis's) or just an apostrophe if plural (e.g. sociologists' or Davises'). Possessive personal pronouns ( hers, his, ours, theirs, yours, its), however, do not take apostrophes. 

Incorrect: 2 Live Crews artistic world view must be criticized on the basis of a civilly responsible resistance to the bands' rap narrative. 

Correct: 2 Live Crew's artistic world view must be criticized on the basis of a civilly responsible resistance to the band's rap narrative.

 

Its / It’s Confusion: Its indicates possession; it’s is a contracted form of it is or it has. 

Incorrect: Its an interesting study, but the researchers’ methodology definitely has it’s flaws. 

Correct: It’s an interesting study, but the researchers’ methodology definitely has its flaws.

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 9: Where to Get Help with Writing

The first stop for help with writing should be your professor. Schedule an appointment or drop by during office hours.

Prepare by:

Get the most out of your meeting by:

Available Campus Resources

Writing Services at OSU:

 

Computer Problems?

WIC Survival Guide Chapter 10: Checklist

Things to Remember