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Lessons/Chapters

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.

Avoid procrastination and gain some control over how you manage your time while developing documents.

One of the most important lessons writers must learn is to handle the language of time. Judging from the multitude of books dedicated to time management--indeed whole forests have given way to time-management
specialists--many of us have difficulties overcoming procrastination, knowing when to research, when to write, and when to collaborate.

Summary

Understand the psychology of writing, particularly the importance of balancing believing with doubting. Learn how to overcome "writer's block" and manage difficult writing assignments.

When it comes to writing projects, do you tend to procrastinate and then binge-write around the deadline time? Do you ever have difficulties scheduling your writing work so that it doesn't become aversive?

Use the common topoi and tagmemic questions to stimulate your creative abilities.

Particle

What is it? What are the unique features of the subject?

Example: What were the unique achievements of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission?

Contrast

How is the subject similar to or different from other members of its class?

Example: What did the Apollo 11 mission accomplish that previous or subsequent missions did not?

Variation

How much can a subject vary, and how can it vary over time without losing its essential nature?

Example: What facts does NASA or a conspiracy theorist present as evidence?

Distribution

How can you observe the subject? How often can you observe it?

Example: What pictures, video, or physical evidence do we have regarding Apollo 11?

Wave

How will the subject change over time? How is the subject changing over time?

Example: How have interpretations of Apollo 11 evolved? What conspiracy theories have been raised since 1969?

Field

What's the larger, systems view? In other words, how do the parts of your subject relate to one another? How does your subject relate to other subjects?

Example: Many web sites and television shows have argued that the Apollo mission was a hoax. contWhy is that? What science was required to carry off the lunar landing and what evidence does NASA have to prove the Apollo mission?

When we proofread a document, we are looking for small errors such as misspellings or accidental omissions.

Have you ever sent off an email message or submitted a school paper only to later discover that it was full of typographical errors?  How could you have missed all of these errors?

The answer seems to have something to do with how our brains work.  Our brains recognize patterns.  This is part of the reason why people who read frequently tend to read faster than infrequent readers: their brains more speedily recognize and process patterns of words on the page.

Why does correct spelling matter?

When a word is misspelled or is mistakenly substituted for a word with a meaning that is inconsistent with the ideas surrounding it, the inaccuracy can create confusion in the mind of the reader. The flow of the passage is temporarily interrupted; frequent spelling and meaning errors can compromise the credibility of the writer.

“Style is a difference, a way of doing, a way of being done” – Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski had writing style. I remember realizing how different writing style can be when I was a junior in college. For fun, I was reading Bukowski because I felt he wrote raw, dirty, gritty prose—it felt real to me. At the same time I was taking a class on Sylvia Plath, and the two styles couldn’t be more different. Bukowski wrote poems in a conversational tone while Plath wrote poems that rhymed; Bukowski wrote about bars, drinking, gambling, and women while Plath wrote about bees, her father and mother, and about cutting her finger.

Although characterized as a "local concern," style is an incredibly important aspect of writing. In this section, you will learn how to craft engaging, dynamic prose and how to best communicate your information and purpose as a writer. For a brief introduction to this topic, see Style: An Introduction.

Voice

Learn how to negotiate between formal academic writing and conversational prose by maintaining an academic tone while staying true to your own voice in Making Sure Your Voice is Present.

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.

How can short sentences be effectively combined? 

A primer-style sentence is a short and simple sentence that usually includes a single subject and verb. While short and simplistic sentences can be used effectively to emphasize a point or clarify a confusing statement, frequent use of them can make a paper sound choppy and interrupt the flow of the paper. Primer-style sentences can be combined into a more complex sentence.

What is parallel structure?

Parallel structure is established when words within a sentence are united by consistent use of grammatical forms. This stylistic element is also referred to as parallelism or parallel construction.

Why is it important to use parallel structure?

Lack of parallel structure can disrupt the rhythm of a sentence, leaving it grammatically unbalanced. Proper parallel structure helps to establish balance and flow in a well-constructed sentence; the alignment of related ideas supports readability and clarity.

Why is it important to vary sentence structure?

Too many simple and compound sentences can make writing sound choppy, but too many complex and compound-complex sentences can make writing difficult to follow. Strive for a balance by combining sentences of various structures and lengths throughout your paper.

What is a sentence fragment?

A sentence fragment is a word, phrase, or dependent clause that is punctuated as a sentence, but the subject, verb, or both may be missing. Though sentence fragments may be used for effect in certain types of writing, fragments are generally not used in academic or professional writing.

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on (or fused) sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined without appropriate punctuation or coordinating words. Dividing a run-on sentence into concise, meaningful units can help to clarify your message.

How might this run-on sentence be divided?

  • Locate the fused independent clauses; it may help to underline the subject-verb pairs.
  • Draw a vertical line (or lines) on your paper to separate the independent clauses.

Experiment with these strategies to use your editing time more productively.

Once you believe a draft conveys the basic information you want your readers to understand, you can begin attacking it at the sentence level. After working hard to develop the substance of a message, you may be weary of it and eager to turn it over to your instructor. If possible, set the draft aside and work on another assignment before trying to edit it.

Explore the effects of different sentence patterns on reading comprehension.

When assessing whether your sentences are too long or complex, consider your audience: Educated readers have a greater tolerance for longer sentences. Younger and less experienced writers prefer shorter sentences. When writing for an international audience or addressing a very complex topic, sentences may need to be shorter.

The Terror of Voice

I like order. I love the comfort of a beautiful and functional Excel spreadsheet. I organize my CDs by genre and then alphabetically by artist. I eat three meals a day.

But my love of order sometimes butts heads with my love of writing. That’s because no matter how much attention I pay to following the rules of writing, I know that to produce writing that astounds readers—moving them, making them gasp, enticing them—I’ll have to include more than just correct writing.

Why is it important to use the active voice?*

When writers use the active voice, their words are direct; they use concrete verbs and clearly state the action being performed by the subject. In contrast, the passive voice is indirect; writers may use weak “to be” verbs (is, am, was, were, being, been) or present progressives (e. g., is working, is laughing), and the actor in the sentence is absent or disguised.

Identify when the active voice is preferable to the passive voice.

In general, you can make your writing more persuasive, clear, and concise by using the active voice rather than the passive voice. There are instances, however, when the passive voice is preferable to the active voice, as discussed below.

Enhance the likelihood that readers will respond favorably to your document by projecting an effective voice, tone, and persona.Voice, Tone, and Persona are slippery terms/concepts. In some instances, these terms can be used interchangeably, yet important differences do exist.

Voice

The term voice may be used to define a writer's stance toward his subject or readers.

Why should tone and voice be considered?

Writers should consider the audience and purpose of each assignment and be cognizant of the tone and voice they use to communicate with their readers. Sensitivity to the audience’s stance on a particular topic will affect their perception of the writer as the argument unfolds; a respectful tone is more likely to reach the audience than one that is condescending.

Why is it important to conclude a paragraph with the writer’s voice rather than a quote or paraphrase?

Although quotations or paraphrased material from reliable sources are often used to add credibility and to support a writer’s ideas, the focus of the paper should remain on the writer’s voice and his or her own agency as a writer.

Credible evidence should be provided to support the points a writer makes, but source material should not overshadow the writer’s voice.