A free, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, award-winning Open Text for students and faculty in college-level courses that require writing and research.

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Welcome to Writing Commons, the open-education home for writers. Writing Commons helps students improve their writing, critical thinking, and information literacy. Founded in 2008 by Joseph M. Moxley, Writing Commons is a viable alternative to expensive writing textbooks. Faculty may assign Writing Commons for their composition, business, STEM/Technical Writing, and creative writing courses. 

Writing Commons houses ten main sections: Academic Writing | Rhetoric | Information Literacy | Evidence & Documentation | Research Methods & Methodologies | Style | New Media Communication | Professional & Technical Communication | Creative Writing | Reviews

The two best ways to navigate through Writing Commons are using the top menu navigation, under Chapters, or use the site search field to the right of the menu.

Understand design principles that are important for both paper and Web documents.

Font selection matters. Even the font you display your documents in can have powerful consequences. Some fonts can distract readers from your message while others draw in the reader's eye, bringing the reader's focus to your text.

  1. What are the Font Families?
  2. What is the Difference between Serif and Sans Serif Fonts?
  3. How Should You Mix Different Font Families?
  4. Strategies

Understand design principles that are important for both paper and web documents.

Contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity--these are the basic cornerstones of design according to Robin Williams, author of the frequently cited Non-Designers Design Book. Minimalism and visuals are equally fundamental design concerns. These design principles apply to both paper and online documents, as suggested by Edward Barrett, Deborah A. Levinson, and Suzana Lisanti, authors of The MIT Guide to Teaching Web Site Design:

Consider a variety of publishing options, including informal sharing, formal publication with publishing companies, self-publishing, and a variety of e-publication formats, including Web pages, wikis, and blogs.

Sharing your work with readers is an exciting and important stage of the writing process. Ultimately, you cannot determine if a document is successful until you share it with your readers and gauge their reactions.

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. 

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Instructions: once you receive feedback from readers, take a moment to reflect on the nature of any problems your readers identified with your work.

1. Time Management: (for additional information, see Managing)

  • Did you manage your time well? What can you do to improve your time management?

2. Purpose: (for additional information, see Consider Your Purpose)

  • Were you able to stay focused on one topic or did your work wander? How well are you following instructions?

3. Audience: (for additional information, see Consider Your Audience)

  • Did you provide the examples your audience needed?

4. Persona or Tone: (for additional information, see Voice, Tone, and Persona)

  • What did you readers think of your tone and persona?

5. Collaborating, Revising, and Editing: (for additional information, see Collaborating, Revising, and Editing)

  • Did your peers evaluate a draft of your document? If so, did their responses help you in a meaningful way?

6. Editing: Did you consistently violate any rules of standard English? (See Grammar Resources for problems with standard English.) What grammar and punctuation rules or principles are you having difficulties with?

Learn how to use self-reflection and responses from readers to improve your writing.

Historians and philosophers are fond of saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This observation is equally valid in regard to your development as a writer. Rather than putting yourself down for making errors, remember that you are in school to learn.

What types of questions do writers need to ask themselves and reflect upon to create stronger content?

  1. What assumptions about writing and research do you hold that intrude on regular writing? For example, do you assume that you first need to do the research and then the writing? Are you uncomfortable writing without having thoroughly completed the research?
  2. What social supports can you establish to promote regular writing?

Although individual writing processes are vastly different, composition scholarship provides evidence of patterns across disparate writing methodologies. This section identifies and explains some of the most notable patterns of successful compositionists. We suggest that successful compositionist practice some of the following strategies: Return, Revise, Risk, Reject. 

Realize your creative potential by adopting the work habits of successful writers, artists, and scientists. Note: For an extended discussion of researching strategies, see Research.

Have you ever heard the expression "success is where preparation meets opportunity"? This same truism can be applied to "invention" or "creativity"; we can all be creative, yet being creative isn't a passive process. Work is involved.

Overcome procrastination by establishing an appropriate schedule.

Schedules are extremely important to writers. Documents can almost always be improved with additional revisions, so some writers need deadlines, a line in the sand, to say "Enough is enough!" For writers who tend to procrastinate, schedules can provide an incentive to get started and keep writing.

Realize your creative potential and avoid procrastination by logging your work.

You can be more productive and make writing less adverse if you write in brief daily sessions. By keeping a log of your writing efforts, you can:

  1. Motivate yourself. By tracking your accomplishments on a daily basis, you can develop a better sense of how research efforts and invention strategies help you break through writer's block.

Rather than waiting for that illusive large block of time and rather than procrastinating until the last minute to begin researching and writing, you can ensure your success by using small blocks of time to accomplish your research and writing goals.

There are serious disadvantages to binge writing as opposed to regular writing as research has demonstrated. First, binge writing tends to stimulate manic-depressive behavior (Boice).

Use the Weekly Progress Report to keep your instructor apprised of your efforts and to help you focus on completing a project in a timely manner.

Writers often find it useful to log their work and to provide regular progress reports to themselves and those they are accountable to--such as supervisors or editors or teachers (see Log Your Work).