What seems like a lifetime ago, after I finished writing my first novel, I drove to a neighboring city to buy a manuscript box, fussed with the papers, folders, and labels, then took my precious package to the post office, where I was provided with a dilapidated old box that looked like it had been hauled out of a dumpster.
Believe me when I say that I am so grateful for the advances in technology! Gone are the days of callused fingers, ink smears, and snail mail. However, we now have a new litany of concerns and precautions. Whether you are writing a dissertation, a novel, a science article, or a college essay, you’re likely spending a lot of time at the computer. If you are a willing slave to technology, as I am, take some simple steps to ensure that you receive all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks.
Even the most comfortable positions can do more harm than good.
I love to edit dissertations, and at this point in my career, I have edited more of them than I can count! Although each university certainly has its own set of guidelines, and although various fields use different types of research methods and headings, all dissertations display common themes. This observation led me on a quest this weekend. I canvassed a multitude of university websites worldwide: Australia, South Africa, England, Canada, and the United States, among other places. Then I created a running tally of those qualities that universities find most essential to a strong dissertation. Read on to learn what universities really want! Knowing the expectations can help to remove frustrations. Continue Reading
The relationship between a writer and an editor is precious; you are trusting us with your thoughts, ideas, and creative style. You are counting on us to find the missteps, improve the structure, and offer a solid evaluation. As with any relationship, incorrect assumptions–from the writer or the editor–can result in disappointment at best, and catastrophe at worst. In contrast, knowing the expectations can lead to a smooth, advantageous relationship.
The right expectations can lead to a satisfying relationship.
Commas: we either love them or hate them. Unfortunately, comma use is not a ‘take it or leave it’ issue. Although some people would love to litter their sentences incessantly with commas and others would love to never see a comma again, accurate writers do not usually have the luxury of choice. Commas serve specific purposes; to disregard those grammatical purposes for the pleasure of our personal desires only invites confusion.
The comma battle–it doesn’t have to be like this!
Happy New Year! What better way to start the year than to make sure that those nasty little grammar missteps are banished for good? (I suppose that there are some better ways to start the year, such as striking it rich or finding your true love, but this is a close runner-up.) For this special New Year’s Day (or day after…), I wanted to offer something special that could relate to a variety of writing disciplines and be applied throughout the year. So this blog is devoted to the parts of speech—not the boring basics, but the annoying little particulars that plague people who want to get it right.
Defeating your grammatical worries can be cause for celebration.
To cite or not to cite? That is the question. (Or something like that!) Many people feel that citing too much makes the paper look like a cut-and-paste. Others feel that citing too little takes the research out of research paper. The real question here should not be how much or how little to cite. Instead, ask yourself when you should cite. Are you actually citing everything you should be? If not, toil and trouble might be in your future!
Don’t be a copycat!
You have done your research, created a solid outline, and written an impressive draft. The information is solid, the organization clear. And yet, something’s not quite right. Deep down, you know what is missing. Living by the familiar expression, “If I don’t see them, they don’t exist,” you have convinced yourself that, if you don’t write it, it isn’t necessary.
Don’t live in fear of the big bad concluding sentence. Your time and effort deserve more than a highly organized list of facts. You need to bring your writing full circle and wrap up those loose ends. You need to write effective closing sentences.
Concluding sentences are like book ends. Continue Reading
This advice is very dear to my heart, for as an editor I find myself suggesting it to nearly every writer I meet. It is age-old wisdom, handed down from teacher to student since the dawn of time (or thereabouts).
“Show, don’t tell.”
The essence of this advice is that, wherever possible, you should focus on creating illuminating description (show) rather than flat-out explaining things (tell). The main reason behind it is that it helps the writer to engage with the story in such a way that encourages realistic moments and characters and a consistent perspective; these cradle the reader inside the story world so that they feel like an essential part of it—almost as if they are living the story.
“Tell” can occur through use of a single word or a series of sentences.
Many students are required to purchase—and perhaps even read—an invaluable writer’s tool known as Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Possibly the most important of the 22 rules that make up the first half of this wonderful guide is number 17, which simply states, “Omit needless words.”
I think there are two primary reasons why so many students tend to go overboard with unnecessary words in their papers: They haven’t done the research and are trying to hide the fact by over-writing; or they think that the paper will sound more scholarly if it is filled with obscure, big, or a high volume of words. To the former group, a tip: Your professor is reading for content and will notice if you don’t know the material. To the latter group: If you know your topic, you’ll sound far more scholarly by discussing it simply and accurately—don’t force your reader to dig out a dictionary.
My favorite piece of writing advice is this:
When my creative writing professor first recommended it to our class, I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from my chest. I had been in the habit of listening in on other people for years, and always felt pretty guilty about it. As he spoke, I suddenly realized that there was nothing to feel guilty about. It wasn’t eavesdropping, after all. It was research!
So, why spy?
Listening in on other people’s conversations can give you inspirations for new stories and new characters, for one thing. More importantly, it gives you a better understanding of natural speech cadences and dialog progression. There is nothing like listening to two people having a real conversation to make you realize three key elements of writing interesting dialog: