Thanks to ever emerging new technologies, writers can collaborate in exciting new ways. Using tools such as Google Docs, writers can work on texts synchronously even when they are separated by continents and oceans. Using discussion forums, musicians can exchange and remix chords with other artists from around the world. Via Skype, writers can talk with one another as they collaborate in a shared white space. Not to mention Wikipedia. Clearly, good collaboration skills are more important now than ever before.

Did I do this right? A checklist for your Works Cited Page!

We get it: formatting can be tough, especially when you’ve been working on a paper for a while and your eyes are starting to cross and the letters are bleeding into one another. If you find yourself nearing the end, use this handy checklist to make sure your Works Cited Page follows all of the rules!

If you have the opportunity to choose collaborators, consider this:

The whole truly can be larger than the sum of its parts. Through collaboration, we can produce documents that we alone could not imagine.  Collaborators can inspire us, keep us on task, and help us overcome blind spots.

At the same time, collaborators can become obstacles, requiring constant supervision. In group situations, other students can fail to attend classes or out-of-class meetings; they can ignore your efforts and just focus on their own missions or visions about ways documents should be written.

Follow these tips for nurturing teamwork in group situations.

Business leaders commonly complain that college graduate students have not learned how to work productively in groups. In American classrooms, we tend to prize individual accomplishment, yet in professional careers we need to work well with others.Unfortunately, the terms "group work," "team work," or "committee work" can appear to be oxymorons--like the terms "honest politician" or "criminal justice."

Follow these recommendations for providing useful feedback on peers' writing.

People are often shy about responding to others' writing. Because they are not professional writers or English professors, some people aren't sure of how to provide helpful feedback. This seems particularly true of inexperienced writers, who sometimes equate writing well with grammatically correct writing.

So there is this student who has just written a draft for one of the projects assigned to him in his composition class. He is walking to class with a copy of the draft in his hand, knowing that today the instructor has an in-class peer review session planned, and his stomach drops.

He begins more and more to think about the prospect of his own peers reading his work and becomes anxious. He starts thinking that perhaps today is the perfect time to take one of those “free” days that each student gets for absences. He thinks, This isn’t a “real” class, anyway—I’m not going to miss anything . . . . Why is my instructor making me share my writing with people I just met a few weeks ago?

Learn important collaborative and team-building skills and provide useful critiques of your peers' documents.

Contrary to the myth of the isolated author in the garret, successful writers do not work in isolation. Writers collaborate extensively. Writers develop their best ideas by discussing issues with colleagues, by researching others' ideas, and by exchanging comments about one another's documents.

Consider these suggestions when critiquing documents in group situations.

In a writing course you have an excellent opportunity to have your work read and evaluated by your peers. Rather than merely imagine how a potential audience might respond to your work, you can meet with classmates and discuss your ideas for writing projects or evaluate drafts.

Develop a "thick skin" and learn how to distinguish between useful and useless criticism.

Responding to your own or someone else's writing is a complex, subjective process. Evaluating your work, your peers' work, and published writing can be extraordinarily difficult. Unlike a math question that has a single correct answer, the criteria for excellence in writing vary according to your communication situation.

Below are some common questions to consider when reviewing a peer's paper as well as when reviewing feedback from peers:

Focus

  • In what ways have you fulfilled the assignment requirements in terms of purpose, length, audience, required/appropriate sources, appropriate persona/tone, and rhetorical stance?
  • What makes your thesis arguable, controversial, and/or insightful?
  • How does your thesis reflect your paper's purpose?
  • How have you advanced your thesis through convincing and compelling ideas?
  • How does each paragraph—along with all the sentences it contains—support your main idea?

You may think of writing as a lonely activity, something to work at in a hushed, half-lit library carrel.  Or you may think of writing merely as a matter of correctness, of getting all the commas in just the right places.  Or you may suffer from writing anxiety and feel unable to produce the first word, let alone the first page.  These writing challenges, and many others, can be addressed in a meeting with a writing tutor.  Tutoring has the reputation of being remedial, of serving students with limited writing experience.  But the writing tutorial can benefit all writers—freshman, graduate, or faculty—and represents a significant learning opportunity. 

Depending on your institution, tutorials may take place in a writing center, in a residential dormitory, or at the library.  Writing tutors may be peer tutors, students like you, or graduate students or professional tutors with PhDs.  Writing tutors are keen readers who love to talk through a writer’s choices and deliberate the effects of everything from diction to argument structure.  Their services are usually available to you free of charge.

Making the most of a tutoring session 

Some schools will advertise their tutors’ areas of specialization and allow you to make appointments to meet with specific tutors.  If you’re working on a chemistry lab report, for example, you may feel more comfortable meeting with a senior chemistry major.  Some schools also offer multimedia tutoring because composition happens across so many media and modes.  You may be able to make an appointment with an oral communication tutor to draft the conclusion of a speech or with a multimedia tutor to reorganize a slide deck.

But most writing tutors are generalists who welcome students from all disciplines who are composing in any genre and at any stage in their process.  For example, if you’re not sure what your assignment prompt is asking for, you could bring it in to discuss with the tutor.  If you haven’t been able to transform a sheath of notes into a draft, you could work with the tutor on brainstorming a working thesis or on generating a preliminary outline.  And of course, if you have a complete draft, you and the tutor might talk about ways to revise and strengthen it.

There is one thing tutors will not do for you: line-edit your writing.  That is because excessive collaboration violates university honor codes.  And you will learn much less if the tutors do the hard work of writing for you. 

Instead, tutors will explain a particular writing technique to you—say, parallelism and why it can make your sentences more logical—and then revise a sentence to demonstrate the technique to you.  Thereafter, the tutor will usually ask you to apply the technique to your writing.  You must take responsibility for your work. 

Ideally, you will come to your tutoring appointment with a specific, concrete goal in mind, one that is tailored to the length of the tutoring session.  If you have just 30 minutes, you might be able to make it through a cover letter, but you and the tutor won’t be able to discuss an entire ten-page paper.  Instead, you might be able to discuss a draft of its introduction and thesis statement.  If you have been able to make a 60 minute appointment, however, you may be able to summarize out loud the argument of the ten-page paper and direct the tutor to the issues that you think need the most attention (such as your transitions, presentation of evidence, or acknowledgment of the counterargument, among many others). 

Most tutoring sessions will open with a discussion of your goals; together with the tutor, you will decide on an achievable agenda for the session, given its time constraints.  Then you will move into a combination of reading, writing, and talking about your writing, which will vary from center to center and tutor to tutor.  Often the best sessions are those in which you talk more than the tutor does because you will discover new ways to put your ideas into words.  As the session comes to a close, you should make a plan for what you need to do to finish your project.

How the writing tutorial contributes to your learning

Colleges and Universities support writing tutors for a number of reasons, but among the most important is this one: the writing tutorial provides an important alternative to the traditional student-teacher relationship.  When conferencing with your instructor, you may be inclined to take every suggestion he makes because you are afraid that if you don’t, your grade will suffer.  By contrast, when you conference with a tutor, you set the agenda: the appointment time, the learning goals, and the direction of the conversation.  There is more parity in the discussion than there would be with your instructor.  You may know, for example, as much about the content as the tutor does.  Meanwhile the tutor’s objective feedback will shed new light on your writing.  You may think you have made your point clearly and thoroughly, but the tutor will tell you how and why you have succeeded or failed, and share expert strategies to improve your writing process.  In the writing tutorial, you learn from a writing coach without the threat of judgment.

Why meet with a writing tutor?  Because you will improve the writing in question, take away writing techniques you can apply to future assignments, and begin to see writing as an exciting process of discovery and meaning making.

Make the most of your conferencing experience by being prepared before you meet with your instructor.

As an undergraduate student, you may be provided with the opportunity to have conferences with your instructor. Conferences are typically 15–20 minutes long and may be individual or small group conferences. In many cases, your instructor may cancel classes for student conferences. This is because the individualized attention you will receive in your conference is extremely valuable for your development as a writer, and the time spent in your conference will be as valuable as your time spent in class.

Conferences are a time for you, as a student, to ask your instructor specific, individualized questions about your project that you may not have the opportunity to ask in the classroom. The conference is the ideal space for you to talk about your text as a whole and to focus on your critical thinking and organizational skills. This is your opportunity to ensure that your writing is delivering the message you intended. The conference is also an opportunity for your teacher to talk with you about what is working well in your text and what areas you might reconsider as you re-envision your work. Your teacher might also note specific patterns in your composing style and can highlight areas to which you might give more attention, and she might even direct you to additional references for more information and practice.

You may be asked to participate in individual, one-on-one conferences with your instructor, as well as small group conferences with your instructor and several of your peers. Similarly to individual conferences, small group conferences are intended to provide you with an opportunity to receive personalized instruction. However, group conferences come with an added benefit—the benefit of multiple perspectives. While an individual conference provides you with the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about your composition with your instructor, small group conferences allow you to expand this dialogue by including your peers.

As beneficial as conferences can be for students, your instructors also understand that conferences can be intimidating and, at times, they can also be somewhat less successful than all had hoped for. An uneventful conference often occurs because students are not adequately prepared for the conference and are unsure of their role in the conference. While each instructor will have a different conferencing style, here are a few useful tips to help you prepare for a successful conference:

Before the conference, you should

  • Reread the draft of the text that you will be discussing with your instructor. This seems like such a simple task, but by rereading your paper before your conference, the material will be fresh in your mind and you will be more comfortable discussing the content of your paper. Whenever you plan to discuss your writing with an instructor, always be sure that you can provide your instructor with a brief explanation of what you are writing about without consulting your paper.


While rereading your text, you should also think about the areas in your project with which you are struggling. Are you having trouble expressing your ideas clearly? Are you having a hard time organizing your thoughts into a coherent whole? Are you experiencing gaps in logic when explaining your ideas? Global issues like these are the types of problems that you should think about prior to the conference so that you are prepared to bring these concerns to your instructor’s attention. Be prepared to tell your instructor what is working well in your paper, what areas need further development and, most importantly, what it is you want to say.

  • Relax. Your conference should not be an intimidating experience. Your instructor is not there to judge you. Instead, try to envision the conference as a space for you and your instructor to engage in a dialogue that is designed to aid you in the revision process. Expect to discuss the more challenging areas in your project with which you are struggling, and plan to work with your instructor to generate a revision plan that addresses these issues.

During the conference, you should

  • Tell your instructor what you would like to discuss during the conference. By coming to the conference prepared to discuss the problem areas in your writing, you are saving yourself and your instructor valuable time. By pointing your instructor to the areas with which you are having difficulty, your instructor can avoid focusing on reviewing areas of your writing in which you are confident.

  • Take notes. Write down any suggestions for revisions that your instructor provides during the conference. You may think that you will remember what you and your instructor discuss, but it's better to have the notes to refer to when you return to your text. By taking notes, you will not only ensure that you remember what you discussed in the conference but you will also show your instructor that you are invested in improving your writing. But most importantly, taking notes is another way for you to think about your plan for revision. Taking notes will help you to appreciate how important re-envisioning your work is in the writing process.

  • Listen. You and your instructor will have a conversation about your composition during the conference. It is important that you listen to what your instructor has to say. You should not enter the conference situation prepared to defend your work—instead, by listening to your instructor and engaging in dialogue, the two of you will work together to improve your text. Not only are you there to listen to your instructor, but she is there to listen to your ideas and questions as well. Be sure to share your ideas with your instructor just as she shares her ideas with you. In order to get the most out of your conference, make sure that you understand everything that your instructor is telling you. And if you don’t . . .

  • Ask! There is no excuse to not ask questions in a conference. These conferences are designed to be student-centered: your instructor really wants to give you valuable advice that will help you improve your composition. But the advice is pointless if the type of revision your instructor is recommending or why she is recommending this change is unclear to you. If your instructor tells you something that you do not fully understand, be sure to ask her for clarification. Asking questions can also help you develop clarity and logic within your project. Knowing what your instructor hears when she reads your text will help you to ensure that you are delivering the message that you want to deliver.

  • Deal with small details at the end. The purpose of the conference is to improve not only your paper, but your overall writing, as well. It is important to focus on global issues during the conference, such as thesis development, critical thinking, and organization. If you are concerned about sentence-level errors, don’t discuss these concerns until you have already discussed the global issues. While mechanical issues such as grammar are important, surface-level areas such as these should be reviewed as a part of your editing process. Conferences, however, are intended to aid you in the revision process, so surface-level issues may not emerge as primary concerns during your conference.

After the conference, you should do the following:

  • Review your notes. Following the conference, it is always a good idea to look back at your notes and make sure you understand them. Take a few minutes to think back on what you discussed with your instructor to be sure that you get the most out of your conferencing experience. Perhaps you might construct a more solid revision plan. Such a plan will help you to synthesize the points discussed in your conference so that when you begin your revision process, you can refer once again to this plan.


Keep in mind that your student-teacher conferences will focus on several—but not necessarily all—areas in your writing that might benefit from revisions. Your teacher will likely share a few areas that are working well in your draft and note why these areas are successful. Ultimately, a successful student-teacher conference will allow your revision process to become more manageable.

Understand the fundamentals of page and Web design; use visual language to convey meaning; use design to assert authority and organize work for readers.

Writers use critical questions to find cracks and crannies, places where they need to develop or clarify their thinking. In their relentless pursuit of clearly expressed, well-developed ideas, they find soft spots—that is, passages that need to be developed or discarded and sections that just don't feel right—that feel mushy like cereal that has been sitting for too long in sour milk. They ruthlessly ask "So what?" and "Who cares?" and reexamine their work, because they know reconsidering a line or a metaphor or even a word may give birth to a new idea or to reconsideration of what has been written. Below provides many questions you can use to interrogate your writing or your peers' writing.

  • Is my conclusion an effective summary, restatement, or challenge?

In addition, you should consider the questions that are invoked by the particular project you are addressing. For example, the critical questions you would ask of a Web site differ from the questions you would ask of a personal narrative.

Save time by resolving substantive rhetorical questions before editorial ones. View revision as a creative, questioning process.

When professional writers are asked to describe their writing process, many emphasize the importance of revision. For many writers, writing is revision. We know from countless studies of writers at work that professional writers may revise a document twenty, thirty, even fifty times before submitting it for publication. Many writers rely on revision to generate their most creative ideas, to find the best form for a document.

Give yourself positive messages when revising, understanding it's easier to critique than to invent.

Why is it important to rephrase awkward word order?

Since the goal of academic writing is to communicate with clarity, writers should build sentences with words and phrases that flow smoothly. Words that are missing, misplaced, or out of order can make the writing sound disjointed or send an unintended message. Reread each sentence carefully or read the paper aloud to check for awkward wording.

When should a block quotation be used?

When a writer chooses to include a long quotation—one that takes up four or more lines of text—it must be set off as a free standing block. As with any quotation a writer employs as evidence, the original text should contain relevant and compelling ideas that are expressed in vivid and concise language.

Block quotations should be used sparingly in longer essays and articles (multiple pages) and rarely in shorter works (1,500 words or less). Lengthy, wordy quotations should never be used simply to fill pages when the writer has little to say about the topic or issue.

When should long titles be shortened within in-text citations?

In-text citations usually supply the author(s)’ last name to reference their work, but when the source has no known author or more than one source by the same author is cited, the title of the source is inserted instead. When an in-text citation refers to a work with a long title, a shortened phrase from the title should be used.

Care should be taken to shorten the title in such a way that it does not compromise the reader’s ability to locate the source on the Works Cited list.

Why is it wise to avoid unreliable sources?

Information from unreliable sources is not always true, up-to-date, or accurate. Using unreliable sources in an academic paper can weaken the credibility of the writer, dilute the writer’s argument, and detract from the overall strength of the paper.

What kind of sources should be avoided?

While the Internet provides a plethora of information on almost any topic imaginable, not all of its content can be trusted. Students should be cautiously selective while doing research and avoid sources that may contain unreliable information:

  • Popular and collective websites (ask.com, about.com, WebMD.com, etc.): Websites such as these provide articles and information that has been collected from other sources that may not be reliable. While the sponsors of these sites usually employ writers who research the topics, citations for the sources of the data are not always provided.
  • Wikipedia: Wikipedia is an online open-source encyclopedia, which means that it can be edited by anyone. While the information on the site is audited by a Wikipedia editor, the information found there may or may not be correct or current.
  • Source material based solely on opinion: While material that conveys opinions and beliefs may have some validity, reliable sources that back up the opinion or belief with facts and trustworthy information should also be sought. If the opinion piece does not include data from reliable sources, a writer may choose not to include it as a source.

Note: Some sources, such as Wikipedia, provide a works cited list or reference list. Some of the cited works could be reliable, but checking the original source and interpreting the information yourself provides the opportunity to confirm its validity.

Where are credible, reliable sources found?

  • Academic databases: These databases, such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR, include searchable collections of scholarly works, academic journals, online encyclopedias, and helpful bibliographies and can usually be accessed through a college library website.
  • Academic peer-reviewed journals: Journal articles that have been peer-reviewed are generally considered reliable because they have been examined by experts in the field for accuracy and quality.
  • Google scholar: This Internet search engine helps the user to locate scholarly literature in the form of articles and books, professional societies’ websites, online academic websites, and more.
  • Library reference or research desk: Library staff can provide useful services, such as assistance with the use of library research tools, guidance with identifying credible and non-credible sources, and selection of reliable sources.

Why is it important to provide reliable support for a point?

When a writer makes a point or claim, his or her position should be supported by evidence from one or more reliable sources. Evidence from reliable sources can make an argument more convincing and build the credibility of the writer. In contrast, unsupported points or points supported by unreliable sources can compromise the integrity of the paper and the writer.

What kind of additional support can be added?

  • Quantitative data, such as statistics
    • Example: Present the percentage of a specific ethnic population in low-income housing units when making a claim related to racial poverty.
  • Empirical evidence from scientific research
    • Example: Provide data from qualitative research when comparing the effectiveness of different methods for teaching young children to read.
  • Quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from experts and specialists
    • Example: Use a quote from General Petraeus of the U.S. Army when discussing the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Anecdotal evidence and relevant narrative
    • Example: Interview a health food store owner to learn more about his or her experience with vegetarian food choices; include relevant narrative about personal experience with choosing a vegetarian lifestyle.

 What actions can be taken to locate additional support?

  • Search reputable academic databases: These databases, such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR, include searchable collections of scholarly works, academic journals, online encyclopedias, and helpful bibliographies that can usually be accessed through a college library website.
  • Search credible news sources: Databases, such as Access World News, can be used to locate news articles from around the world. Articles from reputable news sources may also be found through careful Internet searches.
  • Search academic peer-reviewed journals: Journal articles that have been peer-reviewed are generally considered reliable because they have been examined by experts in their field for accuracy and quality.
  • Search Google scholar: This Internet search engine helps the user locate scholarly literature in the form of articles and books, professional societies’ websites, online academic websites, and more.
  • Ask for help at the library research desk: Library staff can provide useful services, such as assistance with the use of library research tools, guidance with identifying credible and non-credible sources, and personalized assistance with the selection of reliable sources.

Many emerging writers struggle with connecting sourced material to their claims and to their thesis. Oftentimes, this is because they’re too close to their work and think that the connection between claim and evidence is completely apparent to the reader.

Even if the connection is readily visible, authors should still follow up a piece of sourced material with an explanation of its relevance to the author’s point, purpose, and/or thesis. Such connections (“analysis”) should be made directly following the sourced material.

Let's look at an example:

Let’s say that I’m writing a research paper that suggests offshore drilling should be banned, and my thesis is as follows:

Though some may argue that offshore drilling provides economic advantages and would lessen our dependence on foreign oil, the environmental and economic consequences of an oil spill are so drastic that they far outweigh the advantages.

Main points:

  • The known economic impact of past oil spills 
  • The potential impact of oil spills on marine and human life
  • A comparison between advantages and disadvantages of offshore drilling 
  • A response to potential counterarguments

My conclusion would then include a proposal to ban offshore drilling.

For more information on Analyzing Evidence, see also: 

http://writingcommons.org/research/integrate-evidence/incorporate-evidence/analyze-evidence

Conciseness Improves Flow

Unfortunately, many writers use sentences that are too wordy.  This is not to suggest that lengthy sentences can never be used (because they certainly can), but most of the time writers make the mistake of using more words than necessary to get their message across.  Take this sentence, for example: 

  • “Michelle was supposed to have her car’s oil changed every 3,000 miles, and since it had been 3,000 miles since her last oil change, she took her car to the mechanic.”

This sentence is okay and makes sense, though the statement could be more precise if the author phrased it a little differently.  Describing the action first, followed by the reason, would improve it: 

  • “Michelle had the mechanic change her car’s oil because it had been 3,000 miles since the last one.”

Why is it valuable for writers to read their own work aloud?

Reading their own work aloud gives writers the opportunity to take on the role of the reader. When “writers as readers” add hearing to seeing, another of the five senses is put to work in the critical evaluation process. Words and ideas that seemed to flow smoothly and connect logically inside the writer’s head often do not reflect the same sense of cohesiveness when heard in spoken form. Writers who hear their work read aloud are better equipped to evaluate the paper’s flow of ideas at the global level and to discover grammatical, punctuation, and word choice errors at the surface level.

What should writers be listening for when they read their work aloud?

  • At the global level:
    • Does the paper make sense?
    • Does the paper’s content flow logically?
    • Do the paper’s ideas support the thesis?
  • At the paragraph level:
    • Have appropriate transitions been made between paragraphs?
    • Have appropriate segues been made among the sentences?
    • Do the paragraph’s ideas flow logically and sound unified?
  • At the sentence level:
    • What grammatical and usage errors need to be corrected?
    • What punctuation errors are affecting the rhythm of the paper?
    • What word choice issues need to be addressed?

What steps can be taken to read aloud effectively?

  1. Save a copy of your paper as a new document under a modified file name.
  2. Increase the font size to 14 or 16 pt. (or larger), and print a copy of your paper.
  3. Find a reasonably quiet, private space to work, if possible.
  4. Begin by reading your paper aloud slowly from beginning to end; underline or circle problem areas as you find them.
  5. Go back and reread each paragraph aloud a second time; mark up your draft with notes in the margins and corrections of grammatical and word choice errors between the lines.
  6. Revise the paper on a word processor based on the critical evaluation you made, and then repeat the read-aloud process to support further revision, editing, and proofreading.
  7. Consider asking a friend, relative, or classmate to read the paper aloud to you, also.

 

 

Why eliminate unnecessary “to be” verbs?

When a writer consistently uses unnecessary “to be” verbs, the writing can sound dull and lifeless. Flat, wordy writing may cause the reader to lose interest. As a writer learns to substitute stronger, more expressive verbs for “to be” verbs, the enlivened writing is likely to hold the reader’s interest more effectively.

What is a vague pronoun reference?

A pronoun is a part of speech that can replace a noun; its antecedent is the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers. A vague pronoun reference might include words such as it, that, this, and which, and can leave the reader wondering what or to whom the pronoun refers. Writers who strive for clarity in their work should be certain that each pronoun has a specific antecedent.

Why is it important to avoid unnecessary shifts in verb tense?

The verb tense expresses a sense of time in a sentence, paragraph, paper, or longer work. Generally, the writer should establish the time perspective (past, present, or future) in the opening sentence and maintain that tense consistently throughout his or her work.