Writing Center: Just Do It


Hey You

Yes you!

Do you dread writing papers?

Do you struggle with getting started?

Or does writing come naturally?

But you need someone to look over it?

Then do we have a place for you…

Visit the Writing Center!

Make an appointment or stop in during After Hours today!

You know what to do…

By Anna Drenick


Effective Revision


Revising is an essential part of the writing process.  While finishing up a first draft can feel amazing, you should never stop there.  Good final drafts take many steps to achieve.  This includes rereading previous drafts and making edits for grammar and spelling, as well as content and development.  Although many students like to skip this step, good writers know that the first draft is never the best one.  Here are some of the Writing Center’s tips for effective revision:

Wait a while after finishing the first draft to begin revisions. This allows you to have a fresh mind when you decide to start making improvements to your paper. A good amount of time to wait in between completing the first draft and making revisions is usually a couple days, but can vary depending on the specific type of paper and time constraints you may have.

Pay attention to higher-order concerns.  During the early stages of revising, try to concentrate more on focus and development rather than on editing (punctuation, grammar, and spelling).  Reevaluate your thesis statement and double-check that you’ve provided enough evidence to support it.  Check that you’ve drawn a clear connection between evidence and thesis and that the information is organized in a logical way.  There are always ways to improve on these higher-order concerns, and it’s far easier to make these changes earlier in the process, rather than later.

Don’t be afraid to remove ineffective elements from your paper. Most assigned essays come with a word count limit, so many students don’t like to take anything out of their papers after they write it. However, if the text does not serve a purpose to your overall topic or goal of your essay, there is no point in keeping it there. Anyway, it is likely that you will think of something better to include in your paper while revising it.

Read from physical paper.  In the digital age, we have grown so used to reading off a screen.  However, being able to physically mark up a printed copy can help you see errors and areas of improvement far easier than on a screen.  Your brain interprets contact with a physical object differently than just reading off a screen.  This will help you read your paper with a different perspective and help fix those troubling areas.

Read your paper aloud. Whether it is to yourself or a group of people, reading your essay out loud helps you hear how your paper flows. Your voice’s natural pauses will clue you in to where commas and other punctuation marks should go, and your brain has to do twice the work while reading aloud, which will help you catch awkwardly-worded sentences.

Although it may seem tedious and unnecessarily time-consuming, revisions are an important part of the writing process. It will help you catch mistakes you otherwise would have missed, because regardless of the grade you may have gotten on your first draft, there is always room for improvement.  Taking the time to improve your paper, while it may initially feel useless, will pay off in the long run and turn your work into something great. Happy writing!

[Victoria Ho}

<McKenna Miller>

Brainstorming 101


Brainstorming can often be the hardest part of the writing process.  Even if you’re a strong writer, coming up with developed, original ideas can often be difficult.  However, the Writing Center is here to give you some pointers on how to get your mind working to discover some great new ideas you can develop into a strong essay.

Identify your purpose.  Before starting a brainstorming session, it’s important to have an idea of what you are hoping to accomplish with your piece of writing.  This can help guide your brain into avenues that are more relevant for that purpose.  For example, if the purpose of your prospective essay is to explain, then your brain is going to be focused on facts.  If it’s to persuade, you should center on argument.  If it’s to create, then you need to think about narratives, plots, and characters.  Once you’ve identified what your purpose is, you can then use it as a “filter” to separate ideas that could work for the essay and ideas that couldn’t.

Freewrite.  Freewriting is a process that involves unrestricted writing about a specific prompt or topic.  This is a really good way to get your brain thinking about ideas related to your topic and how they relate to each other.  If you wanted to go a step further, after you’ve written for 5-10 minutes, you can take a few minutes to try to organize what you’ve written.  This further helps you recognize the the relationships between items.

Google!  Search engines can be extremely helpful in learning about a topic.  This step is especially essential for research essays, as you have to know the information in order to formulate an argument.  However, Google can help with creative works too; learning more about a specific place or how authors handle different types of characters can be extremely helpful when crafting this type of work. Regardless, looking at other people’s ideas can help develop and refine your own.

Cubing.  This process gets its name from its six-sided approach to brainstorming.  Cubing involves writing responses to the following:

  1. Describe the topic.
  2. Compare the topic with something else.
  3. Associate the topic with other things or another field.
  4. Analyze the topic.
  5. Apply the topic by considering how being knowledgeable about it can be useful in everyday life
  6. Argue for and against the topic.

After completing this, consider what you wrote.  Reorganize your work if you have to.  What new ideas come to mind?  What connections do you see?  Is there an argument you can develop?

Be a journalist.  Reporters generally want to focus on the facts: the who, what, when, where, why, and how.  Try to answer these questions about your topic.  If you find yourself struggling, go to Google and see what other people have to say.  Of course you should try to find reliable sources but try to use the information you find to answer these questions.  This will increase your understanding of the topic and (hopefully) get you to start thinking critically about an argument.

While brainstorming can be difficult, employing some of the strategies above can help ease the process.  Once your brain has the information it needs, you will more easily be able to think critically about the subject and develop useful ideas.  These will aid you as you begin to craft your essay.  If you ever find yourself struggling through the brainstorming phase, feel free to make an appointment at the Writing Center, and we can get you started.  Happy writing!

[Victoria Ho]

How to Write an Abstract


Abstracts are used in research papers to summarize the findings of a study.  Many professors require an abstract for students engaging in independent research or submitting a written report.  While this piece of writing can be different from the regular argumentative essay, there are still plenty of ways to make your abstract stand out.

It is best to write an abstract once you’ve finished writing your essay. This will make it easier to determine what information is most important and should be included in your abstract.

Once you’ve completed your research, identify the main points in your paper.  The main points will be directly tied to your thesis statement and work to support the conclusions drawn in the course of the research.  In addition, be sure to include these conclusions in your abstract.

Be sure that your abstract doesn’t include any new information that has not been covered in your essay. This is because an abstract is a summary, not part of your actual research paper, therefore new information is not appropriate for an abstract.

You do not need to include any citations in an abstract.  Since your research should be original, and the abstract serves as a summary of your own original argument, everything included in your abstract should come from you and be in your own words.  While cited material is necessary for the body of your research paper, it should not be included in the abstract.

After you’ve written a rough abstract, read through it and remove any extra/unnecessary content. Extra information consists of anything that does not relate to your thesis or key points throughout the paper. Also, make sure that your information is organized in the following order: purpose, design, methods, findings, and conclusion.

Once you have completed the tasks above, it would be wise to have a peer, professor, or writing center consultant review your work to make sure it is appropriate and meets the assignment’s requirements. Writing abstracts can be difficult, but breaking it down into steps makes the process much easier to handle. Good luck and happy writing!

[Victoria Ho]

<McKenna Miller>

How to Read Your Textbook


We’ve all been there: the day before a test and you haven’t touched the textbook.  In order to maximize your classroom success, it is necessary to supplement your class lectures with the reading material in the textbook.  While this can seem like a time-consuming and overwhelming task, the Writing Center is here to give you some tips on how to read your textbook effectively and efficiently.

  • Take notes
    • At first, taking notes over textbook material can seem intimidating. Every sentence can seem important, but it is not useful to write down everything. Instead, try to stick to key terms and definitions, as well as the main idea of the subsections you’re reading. Also, make sure to pay attention to headings in your reading, as it will help guide your thinking.

  • Read slowly if necessary
    • Trying to barrel through textbook material can seem like the easiest way to cram before an exam.  However, this is not a good way to retain information.  You should always read a little slower when reading higher-level material like textbooks than you would reading a novel or comic book.  This might require you to put more time into your textbook reading, but it will only bolster your understanding of the material and help you to remember it on your next exam.

  • Break it down into sections
    • As previously mentioned, paying attention to the headings in your textbook is a great way to guide your reading and make it less intimidating. A 40-page chapter can seem like a mountain to climb, but if you break it down into chunks and read a little bit every day, it turns the mountain into a series of much smaller hills. This way, you will also not be cramming, which leads to more retention come test day.

  • Set realistic deadlines
    • Taking some time at the beginning of the week to set a schedule for your reading can keep you accountable and make sure you’re staying on track.  Meeting deadlines will cause you to feel like you’ve accomplished a small task and will make the whole of the chapter less demanding.

  • Read and reflect on the “end of section” questions
    • The review questions at the end of textbook chapters are there for a reason. Taking the time to read and write down the answers in a notebook can help make the information you just read stick in your mind a lot better. Also, the questions can help you think about the textbook material in a different way than it was originally presented to you, increasing your understanding.

Obviously, textbooks are super intimidating.  Not only do they cost a fortune, they will make or break your grade in the class. However, with the right skills, you can learn to read smarter, faster, and better.  This will help you succeed in your hardest classes.  If you ever have any questions about navigating course material, feel free to drop in at the Writing Center, and we will help you out!  Happy writing (and reading)!

[Victoria Ho]

<McKenna Miller>



Editing is the last item on the PSU Writing Rubric.  While it is the lowest on the rubric, it’s still immensely important for your writing.  Here’s what the rubric has to say about editing that “exceeds expectations”:

  • The paper is nearly free of errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word choice.  Formatting follows the guidelines of the assignment (if any), and/or the formatting conventions of the discipline (if relevant), and/or the formatting conventions of general academic writing.  The overall effect is polished and professional.

Without good editing, a reader can get distracted from what really matters: content.  Therefore, the Writing Center is here to answer any questions you may have about common grammar mistakes.

Comma splices.  A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are joined with a comma.

Incorrect:  The dog was really cute, I like him a lot.

Each of the two clauses can stand on its own as a complete sentence.  Therefore, we need to use different punctuation in order to join these two thoughts.  To fix a comma splice, you can either add a semicolon, a period, or a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) preceded by a comma.

Correct: The dog was really cute; I like him a lot.

Correct: The dog was really cute.  I like him a lot.

Correct: The dog was really cute, so I like him a lot.

*BONUS: If a sentence is a combination of a dependent clause and an independent clause, a comma is unnecessary.  Example: The dog was really cute (independent) and liked me a lot (dependent).*

Its v. It’s.  “Its” is the possessive form of “it.”  “It’s” is a contraction of the words “it is.”

Incorrect: Its my birthday!

Correct: It’s my birthday!

Incorrect: It’s dogbowl is empty.

Correct: Its dogbowl is empty.

Affect v. Effect.  These two words get confused a lot.  The key to remembering the difference is that “affect” is usually used as a verb.

Incorrect: The rain effected my drive to work.

Correct: The rain affected my drive to work.

“Effect” is usually used as a noun.

Incorrect: The rain had an affect on my drive to work.

Correct: The rain had an effect on my drive to work.

However, both words can be used as verbs or nouns depending on context.  This is where it gets tricky:

Correct: I want to effect change.  (“Effect” is acting as a verb here.)

Correct: She had a sad affect.  (“Affect” is being used as a noun.)

I would venture to say that 9 times out of 10, “affect” will act as a verb, and “effect” will act as a noun.  However, there are exceptions to every rule, so just be sure to pay attention to the context of how you’re using the word.  There are plenty of online resources if you find yourself getting stuck.

Which v. That. v. Who/m.  We see mistakes of which v. that v. who/m all the time at the Writing Center.  Here is a detailed explanation of how to use each of these words correctly:

“Which” should be used when additional, unnecessary information is attached to a sentence.  Eliminating the “which” clause should not change the author’s meaning.

Correct: The dog chased the cat, which had been eating cabbage. 

“That” should be used when the information is pertinent to understanding the sentence.  A “that” phrase is often used to specify who or what is performing the action.

Correct: The dog chased the cat that had been eating cabbage.

Do you see how the two examples above mean completely different things?  “That” is specifying what specific cat is being chased, and “which” is adding information that isn’t necessary for the meaning of the sentence.

“Who” can act in both situations as “that” and “which.”  The only difference is that “who” can only be used when talking about people.

Correct: The dog’s owner, who was really embarrassed, ran after them.  (Same situation as “which”)

Correct: Reynaldo is a dog owner who is running after his dog.  (Same situation as “that”)

*BONUS: “Whom” can act the same as “who,” but only when it is in the direct object position (the item that receives the action).

Incorrect: Reynaldo, who the dog loves, is running after him.

Correct: Reynaldo, whom the dog loves, is running after him.

Incorrect: The waiter, who my dad can’t stand, brought him the wrong order.

Correct: The waiter, whom my dad can’t stand, brought him the wrong order.

See how “whom” is receiving the action?  Generally speaking, if you can replace “who” with “him” or “her,” then you should use “whom.”  (I.e The dog loves him, my dad can’t stand him).*

Perhaps the biggest tip the Writing Center can give to students is to read their essays out loud!  Taking this extra step can make a world of difference.  Hearing yourself allows you to pick up certain things that you wouldn’t otherwise.  Awkwardly-worded sentences will pop out, you’ll hear verb tense issues, and you’ll pick up on some of the grammar stuff mentioned above.  I highly recommend any writer to read their work out loud to themselves (or have someone else read it) to make sure it is absolutely perfect to turn in.

While editing is last on the PSU Writing Rubric, bad editing can completely ruin a paper, even if the paper has good ideas.  Your reader must be able to understand the sentences you write, and proper grammar is essential to making that happen.  Although you shouldn’t be overwhelmed with making sure everything is grammatically correct, you should make a good effort to make sure everything is communicated  in a way that is understandable.  If you have questions, feel free to ask the Writing Center, or our best friend, Google.com.

Good luck and happy writing!

[Victoria Ho]



The PSU Writing Rubric describes  style that “exceeds expectations” as meeting these requirements:

  • Sentences are clear, effective, and coherent.  Vocabulary is broad, and word choice shows attention to the audience, purpose, and context for writing.  Word choice, sentence structure, and tone are appropriate for the paper’s purpose, audience, and context and/or are appropriate for academic/professional settings.  The paper makes consistently effective use of content-area vocabulary appropriate to the subject.

While style is a little more abstract than some of the other components on the rubric, there are still some concrete ways that you can edit for style.  Here’s a few tips on how to make your paper stand out in all the right ways:

Use straightforward language.  Many students use big words to sound “smart” and add length to their essays.  However, bigger is not always better.  It’s generally better to use easy-to-understand language, mostly because not only will you have a better understanding of what you’re saying, so will your reader.  Making yourself clear and understandable is essential to communicating ideas effectively.

Trim long sentences.  Long sentences aren’t inherently bad, but overly wordy sentences are a problem.  We want our writing to be concise so that our ideas are easily understood.  Longer sentences require more attention from the reader, and we want them to be able to enjoy our work with as much ease as possible.

Avoid redundancies.  Being redundant is a little unnecessary, don’t you think?  All joking aside, in order to write concisely, we need to avoid saying something that’s implied or has already been stated.  For example, referring to something as an “end result” would be redundant because a “result” implies that something has ended.

Avoid excess modifiers.  Adjectives and adverbs should be used sparingly in your essays.  While you shouldn’t avoid them entirely, they should be used to serve a purpose other than to add length to your paper.

Show don’t tell.  Try using verbs instead of modifiers to tell your story.  For example, instead of saying “The sad dog,” you should use an action that the dog does to show that it is sad, like “The dog wept quietly in the abandoned alley.”

Specificity is key.  Using details can really highlight an experience and add some color to your writing.  If you want to describe a scene, a few extra details will make it come alive in your reader’s imagination.  You also need to pay attention to details in a research paper.  A couple of minor pieces of evidence can swing a reader over to your point of view, so make sure you pay careful attention to your framing and how it impacts your argument.

Avoid stereotypes or cliches.  Cliches are words or phrases that have lost their meanings over time due to overuse.  Here are some examples:

  • In modern society
  • Throughout history
  • In this day and age
  • In the current climate
  • From the dawn of man
  • Good things come to those who wait
  • Every cloud has a silver lining
  • Little did I know
  • I learned more from them than they did from me
  • Every rose has its thorn
  • The time of my life

We have all heard these before, and that’s the problem.  We want our writing to be original and thought-provoking, otherwise our reader will lose interest.  Cliches offer none of these perks; they are usually fillers used when another phrase would work better.  Instead of saying something like “In modern society,” which is often used as a topic or opening sentence, we could say something like “Lately, people have come to resent cell phones, even though they were once revered.”  Phrasing it this way avoids cliches and highlights what you really mean by “modern society” (i.e. how everyday people view cell phones).

Don’t be overly repetitive.  Have you ever read a paper where the author says the same thing, but phrased differently, a million different times?  I’ve read a lot of these, and the underlying problem is that the writer doesn’t have enough evidence to support their position, so they hold on to the one or two pieces of evidence that they know they can rely on.  To fix this, find more evidence to support your position by doing more research and reshaping the presentation of your argument.

That concludes our lesson on how to improve your writing style.  While style is one of the lesser components on the rubric, great style can make your essay stand out when competing for the grade or job.  Feel free to stop by the Writing Center if you have any questions about style!  Happy writing!

[Victoria Ho]

Use of Sources


Fourth on the PSU Writing Rubric is Use of Sources.  While citing sources is essential when you use information that doesn’t come from you, it’s not the only thing that your writing should be doing in regard to sources.

The Writing Rubric describes the use of sources that exceeds expectations as:

  • Outside sources appropriately support development of the main idea, and provenance of all source material is clearly indicated.  Source material is effectively integrated into the writer’s own sentences.

In order to fully understand how to use sources effectively, I’ll break the above description up by parts.

Develop the Main Idea

Sources should be used to support the paper’s main idea (the thesis statement).  Some students use so much cited information in their essays that the main idea of the paper gets lost.  Effective writers use cited material to support their position in the thesis statement.  The cited material should develop your argument in a way that the reader can understand while at the same time not take away your voice as a writer.  Here is an example of inappropriate source use:

Thesis Statement: Dogs are better pets than cats.

Cited Material: It takes a lot to take care of a dog.  Puppies have 28 teeth and normal adult dogs have 42 (Cite).  They use their teeth to grind their food before ingesting it (Cite).  Dogs need nutrition to grow, which is why dog food is so expensive.  Without the right food, the dog could become sick or malnourished.

While the cited material is true and factual, it doesn’t really relate to the thesis statement all that much.  How does the description of dog food needs relate to why dogs are better than cats?  The way the paragraph is written right now, there doesn’t seem to be a connection at all.  Here’s a better example:

Thesis Statement: Dogs are better pets than cats.

Cited Material:  Dogs are more intelligent than cats, which makes them more likely to obey their owners.  They are trained to do many jobs, such as smelling malignant tumors, taking down criminals, and finding and hunting birds (Cite).  All of those jobs show dogs can be trained to be obedient, but cats cannot do any of those things.  This shows that dogs will be more obedient than cats.

Do you see how this second example draws a much more relevant connection to the thesis statement?  While citations are always important, it’s just as important to include the right kind of cited information as well–information that helps to develop your argument.


Citing sources is absolutely essential for any information that does not spawn from your own brain!  See below for memeage:

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, there are many different formats that you can choose from when citing your sources.  Here at the Writing Center, the most common that we see are MLA, APA, and Chicago Manual of Style.  For the sciences, we sometimes see ACS as well.  For more information on how to use any of those systems, consult Purdue Owl or our blogposts on How To! Chicago Manual of Style, MLA format and citations, APA: The Basics, and How to Cite Sources in ACS.

The basis of all citation systems is some sort of in-text citation, whether that be a number or parenthetical citation, followed by a full reference page.  Most systems require the author’s name and the source title in varying order, as well as a publication date and year.  Regardless of what system you choose (or your instructor prefers), it is ALWAYS necessary to cite sources if the information comes from someone other than yourself, even if it’s just a paraphrase.  Further memeage:

Effective Integration

Now that we’ve covered how to cite sources and how to use them effectively to support your thesis, it’s now time to talk about how to weave the cited material into your paper without losing your own voice.  A lot of papers that we see at the Writing Center involve excessive quotation or quotations that could better be said as a paraphrase.  On the other hand, we sometimes see papers where a quotation or two would be helpful in understanding the argument.  So here are some tricks on how to effectively use cited material:

  • Use a quotation when the source uses distinctive phrasing or language.  For example, you wouldn’t want to change language such as “separate but equal” or “clear and present danger” when talking about court cases.  Similarly, you also don’t want to rephrase a particular notion associated with a specific author.  Examples of this include phrases like “I have a dream” or “All men are created equal.”
  • Use quotations when analyzing a specific text or study.  You wouldn’t spend an entire paper analyzing the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. without including some of his original words.  The reader has to have some context in order to understand the argument that you’re making.
  • Use a quotation when the original source says the information better than could ever be paraphrased or the material is so distinctive that it cannot be easily paraphrased.  Example: “Consideration of particle emission from black holes would seem to suggest that God not only plays dice, but also sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.”-Stephen Hawking

Now that you know when to quote, you now need to understand how to integrate those quotations into your material without losing your voice.  Here are some tips for how to introduce quotes in your paper:

  • Acknowledge the author.  An easy way to introduce the quote is to credit the author before the quote.  Some words you could use to this are “states,” “proposes,” “suggests,” or “says.”  Example: In Adrian Jones’s article about gender roles in classic Disney films, he states: …
  • Break it up.  Another way to integrate quotations is to use shorter quotations in between phrases written in your own words.  For example: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “dream” was that men would not be “judged” by their skin but “by the content of their character.”

Well there you have it!  The Writing Center’s guide to effective source use.  Remember, sources should be used to bolster your argument.  If cited material isn’t serving that function, you should seriously evaluate whether that information should be included in your paper.  If you ever have any questions about source citation, feel free to come by the Writing Center!  Happy Writing!

[Victoria Ho]