While we tend to think negatively of red ink on a paper, this kind of feedback is one of the best ways to improve your writing. Our motto this semester, “Beyond One and Done,” emphasizes the editing process as essential to quality writing. Like Snoopy, most of us aren’t able to sit down and write a literary masterpiece in one session. Good writing is usually a product of good editing. There are many different ways to edit a paper; you can edit while you write and edit once a draft is complete. You can edit on screen, or you can print a copy and break out the traditional red pen to mark comments and changes. Editing can be done on both micro and macro levels, as well. On the micro level, look for ways to fix typos and grammatical errors, tweak word choice, and improve sentence structure. On the macro level, look for things like overall clarity, paragraph cohesion, and the organization of ideas. Don’t be afraid to move, cut, or change a section of your paper that isn’t working!
The FIU Writing in History program can help you with all stages of the editing and revision process. Schedule an appointment with a writing tutor on our website.
Don’t fear a little red ink,
One of the hardest parts of writing is figuring out where to begin. After reading the assigned material and the paper prompt, if you are still not sure how to start, then you should consider a brainstorming activity. Brainstorming describes a number of techniques that you can use to gather your thoughts, to put your ideas onto paper, and to create some kind of order from the chaos of information floating around inside your head.
The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill presents several methods to gather your ideas about a particular topic. Making lists can be one effective way to jot down information. You might start by writing a word or a phrase that relates to your topic, then listing in bullet-point fashion as many ideas or examples that come to mind. If you have already thought of a thesis statement or an argument for the paper, you might want to write down each element of the argument, then list all of the evidence that you can find from the readings or texts to support that part of the argument.
Clustering and mapping can also help you to jot down your ideas and begin to organize them. Write down words, phrases, examples, and ideas that relate to your topic. Then draw lines between items that share some sort of connection. By the end of the exercise, you should have a map or a web of various thoughts, with links drawn between them. This will help to group your ideas together and see different ways to approach the topic.
There is no one “right” way to brainstorm, but lists, clusters, and webs can serve as useful tools to get your ideas onto paper.
Planning is paramount,
While Pig is making some obvious (and easily fixable) mistakes, utilizing proper grammar in the English language can often be a difficult task. Good grammar is important, though, because it makes your writing flow better and helps to communicate your ideas more effectively to your readers. Modern word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, contain grammar check software that automatically reviews your writing for spelling, punctuation, and usage errors. While these tools can be useful, they cannot replace the need for human editing. You can often catch things that the machine will not.
In previous blog entries, we’ve covered using commas, the proper way to include numbers and dates in history papers, and common grammatical mistakes that can be avoided. If you’re still having trouble finding the correct way to word things, or if you’re not sure if your commas and periods are in the right places, then the Writing in History tutors can help! The tutors are available from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, in DM 397. Please visit our website to make an appointment.
When you write, you should aim to make your paper as easy to understand as possible. At an intellectual level, the writing process communicates your ideas. Doing so in a clear way makes it easier for readers to understand what it is that you are trying to say. At a practical level, clearer writing usually results in better grades. Students often run into trouble when a professor or grader cannot understand a section of the paper. Most of us have received comments such as “too wordy,” “I don’t understand,” or “huh?” at one point or another on papers. Improving clarity can help solve these problems.
The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers several tips to improve clarity in your writing. First, try to keep your sentences as short and simple as possible. Limit yourself to one idea per sentence. While it may be tempting to go to a thesaurus and attempt to use as many large words as you can, this often leads to wordy writing that clouds your meaning and makes it difficult for your reader (or grader) to understand what it is that you’re trying to say. Keep it short and simple!
You should also avoid passive voice in your writing. When you use passive voice, the subject of your sentence receives the action rather than performing it. Sentences written in the passive voice often contain a form of the verb “to be:” is, are, was, or were. Re-wording these sentences to use an action verb makes your writing more direct. The UW Writing Center website contains several excellent examples of how to do this. By making the subjects of your sentences perform actions and by reducing vagueness and wordiness, you can write in a clearer way and transmit your ideas more effectively.
Use your active voice,
Writing a paper for a class can be a stressful, nerve-racking process, even for experienced writers. Waiting until the last minute to start a paper only exacerbates these feelings of anxiety. The writing process is most effective when you have time to plan, organize your ideas, and edit and revise multiple drafts of a paper. Beginning long before the deadline gives you a chance to do this. It also gives you an opportunity to seek help if you need it. Maintain your peace of mind by scheduling an appointment with one of our FIU Writing in History tutors.
Start early and avoid last-minute panic,
Map of the Several Nations of Indians to the Northwest of South Carolina, ca. 1721
The next meeting of the History Journal Club will be held on Wednesday, March 9 at 2 pm in DM 370. For the March meeting, we will focus on finding and interpreting primary sources beyond written documents. For example, maps, archaeological data, and oral histories add much to historical study. To help us springboard into that discussion, the March article is Ian Chambers, “A Cherokee Origin for the ‘Catawba’ Deerskin Map (c. 1721).” Chambers uses a variety of contextual clues to argue that a Cherokee individual, rather than a Catawba, drew the above map. Such contemporary maps, drawn by both Native Americans and Europeans in the Americas, are full of historical significance and can be used to bolster or challenge conclusions from written documents.
Best, Dr. Ferdinando