Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Writing Tips for Students

A few years ago the freshman teachers got together to discuss inconsistencies in student writing across the curriculum. Following a very energetic conversation we came up with a list of basic tips for Freshmen to use as they transition in to high school. 

Dear Freshman Student, 

Here are a few suggestions that we, your teachers, have for making technical improvements on your essays.  We see these mistakes often in your papers. 
We want you to be mindful of them. 
These tips, when followed, will help improve your essays.

1.  Avoid using I in analytical papers. 
Incorrect Usage: “I think Pip learns from his experiences.”, “I believe George regretted killing Lennie.”
Correct Usage: “Pip learns from his experiences.”  “George regretted killing Lennie.” 
Why: The pronoun I is redundant and reduces the power of your voice.  Clearly, the
 paper is full of your thoughts and ideas; Simply state them.
2.  Avoid starting your sentences with so or a lot.  Simply state your point.

3.  Avoid using objects as subjects.
Incorrect Usage: “Me and him are friends.” or “Myself and her are going to the store”.
These objects (me, him, myself, her etc.) should come after the verb in a sentence.  Correct Usage: He and I are friends. (The pronouns He, I, you are in the nominative case. They should go before the verb.)
Reference Chapter 16 in your English workshop book.

4.  Avoid using that when you mean who.
Incorrect Usage: She’s the girl that sits next to me.
Correct Usage: She’s the girl who sits next to me.
Who is always a pronoun.  The antecedent of who is always a person. 
That can be used as a pronoun, an adjective or an adverb.
Correct Usages  As a pronoun: “Look at the horse that he bought.” As an adjective: “That woman is her mother.”  As an adverb: “The fish was that big.”

5.  Every pronoun deserves an antecedent. 
Correct usage:  Megan loves to dance; she moves quite gracefully.
When writing analytical essays, avoid using the pronouns you, we and one.  These pronouns are unnecessary.
Incorrect Usage:  “When you analyze Of Mice and Men, you see that George was indeed a hero.”
Correct Usage: “George in Of Mice and Men was a hero.”

6.  Know when to use Its vs. It’s.
Correct Usage: “It’s a beautiful sunny day.” (It’s is a conjunction of it and is.) Avoid contractions unless they are in quotes from the text.
“The gum has lost its flavor, all the more reason for you to not eat it in class.” (Its is the  possessive form of it.)

7.  Know when to use There vs. Their vs. They’re.
Correct Usage: “There are many students who would benefit from these writing tips.” Or sit over there.  (there- usually used to point to a place, a place in time or a physical place.  It is also used to emphasize something or to start a sentence.)
“Students organize their materials in order to make learning easier.” (their-shows ownership, it is possessive)
They’re going to do well on the test because they studied. (They’re is a contraction composed of they and are.  This word allows a writer to communicate the subject and verb in a condensed form.)  Avoid contractions altogether unless they are in quotes from the text.
8.  Know when to use lose vs. loose.
Correct Usage: “My necktie is loose.” (loose-meaning detached, relaxed, free from restraint)  “Organize your assignment sheets or else you will lose them.” (lose-meaning to be without or fail to keep)
Reference chapter18 in your English Workshop book.

9.  Do not start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but etc.) or end it with a preposition (to, with  etc).

10.  Understand when to use then versus than. 
Incorrect usage: “Understanding is more important then memorization.”
Correct Usage:  “Understanding is more important than memorization.”
Than is a conjunction used for the purposes of comparison.  Then is an adverb usually communicating a sequence of events.
Correct Usage: First approach learning with confidence in your abilities, then you will be more likely to achieve success.

11.  Text talk and colloquialisms have no place in formal papers.  They often prevent students from communicating what is specifically happening in a text.
Incorrect usage: “Romeo hung out with Benvolio.”
Correct Usage:  “Romeo engaged in conversation and joked with Benvolio.”
Incorrect Usage: “Lennie learns 2 obey George b4 trouble begins.”
Correct Usage:  “Lennie learns to obey George before trouble begins.”

12.  Always use the present tense when discussing literature.
Incorrect Usage: “Romeo and Juliet died.”
Correct Usage: “Romeo and Juliet die.”
After all, literature is alive and well, no matter what internet savvy consumers say!

We are sharing these tips simply to help improve the technical aspects of your writing. 
Remember: you are smarter than your spell-check. 
Above all, when making a point, support it with examples.

We are all responsible for teaching students to use the skill of writing to communicate effectively. 

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