Monday, March 7, 2011

Word Shoplifting...

We've all heard of kleptomania, the debilitating disorder that causes the ultra-rich, idle hands of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Winona Rider to stuff makeup into their purses and strut out of upscale boutiques wearing $2,500 necklaces they didn't pay for. But even stranger than this is the kind of borrowing writers and researchers do. Pick up almost any academic journal, and you'll find a solid portion of the text has been borrowed from other sources.

Is it shoplifting?

Well, if the author's weren't to pay for it, it certainly would be. Using information without citing it is a crime, as severe a crime as we have here in the academic world. People have seen their careers go south over such an incident (not to mention winding up in court!) and students have been expelled.

So how to we make sure we're always paying for what we take? By citing!

And its not like it costs very much money. The average citation costs nothing at all, outside of the ink it costs to add that little parenthetical doo-dad (Some Blogger, 20011, pg. 1). And it isn't just quotations and statistics we have to cite, but ideas. Taking someone else's work and rewording it doesn't make it your own. To follow the example, if Lohan had taken that necklace apart and rearranged it into two bracelets, she'd still be expected to pay for it!

So don't wind up on the covers of tabloids everywhere... when in doubt, always cite!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Verbal Vomit

The beginning is usually the hardest part. What am I thinking? What do I want to say? Why I am doing this? Do I want hummus or a gyro? Both? These are all questions that go through our heads as we stare at a blank computer screen, but there are ways to combat the frustration of not being able to write.

1) If you're writing a personal essay, sit down with a pen and paper and for 10 minutes write without lifting your pen from the paper. No stopping. This has been lovingly dubbed at JU as "verbal vomit." It's okay if half of the paper is why I am doing this? I hate this. I hate this. I have nothing to say. Stupid. This is so incredibly stupid. Even if you only get a few good ideas down on paper, you still have a few good ideas. Now write.

2) If you're writing a research paper, do your research first. Gather online articles, books, interviews, etc., read through them, highlight when necessary and then do your verbal vomit. Look for themes within that vomit (gross, I know. Just go with it). Is there a specific idea you keep going back to? Now write.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Be or Not To Be

"...that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles..." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, I'll stop. It's very easy for us here at the writing center to go off on quoting tangents. Please feel free to stop us when you see this happening.

Today, it's all about “Be” verbs.

Your “Be” verbs are as follows: am, is, are, was, were, be, been, and being. Say this to yourself like a bagillion times, and you'll be able to say them super fast. So, when people ask you what the "Be" verbs are (and they will) you'll be able to say them like you've known them forever.

"Be" verbs are necessary, but they've now devoured most other verbs. In most cases, "Be" verbs lack clarity and don't show action. They also become very repetitious, and this makes for simple and sloppy writing.

Sara is sick. She is going to the store to buy some more medicine. She has been sick for awhile, and she is worried she might miss her play tomorrow. This is a role she has been working on for 3 months. Her cast mates are also worried, but the understudy is super ecstatic.

Easy cowboy! That's a lot of "Be" verbs. Let's count 'em folks. 8 "Be" verbs. 8. "Be" verbs should make up roughly 25-35% of all verbs in a paper. So, let's rework this paragraph and bring the "Be" verb usage down a bit.

Better Example:
Because of her sickness, Sarah is going to the store to buy some more medicine. She worries that she might miss her play tomorrow because she has been sick for awhile. This role is 3 months in the making. Her cast mates also worry, but the understudy can’t contain her excitement.

Okay, we've eliminated a lot of "Be" verbs, and we now have them down to 3. Not too shabby. Now, this is important: you need "Be" verbs. Do not completely eliminate them from your writing. Like I mentioned before, they are necessary.

A good way to see if you're using a lot of "Be" verbs is to take a red pen and a paper that you're working on and circle all of the "Be" verbs. You might be very surprised by how much blood, I mean red ink, is on the page. Then, rework the paper where can. Don’t force it, and don't eliminate all of them. That's just ridiculous.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Unfortunately, there will be no updating on this blog for the next month. Why? It's holiday break! So, join in on the cheer, have a great New Year, and we'll be back mid-January.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sources and Such

We all know we should do it. You know, the ol' adages, "Give credit where credit is due" and "A bird in the hand is worth more than a monkey in the bush." Okay, I'm not so sure about the second one, but the whole idea of giving credit to those who deserve it is important. Not doing so can lead to bad grades, expulsion, or law suits. So, as Nike says, just do it.

But when writing a paper, you want to look for quality sources. Let's review some excellent examples:

1. Books written by a subject's expert
2. Newspaper articles
3. Online references from credible databases (your online school library should have links)

However, when writing a paper that is to be turned in to be graded, do not (hold on, let's capitalize that for extra emphasis) DO NOT include sources from "those" websites. Come on, we all know what I'm referring to:

1. Wiki-pedia

These sites are the first ones to usually appear in a Google search, and there's no way to verify their credibility other than to find the information somewhere else. So, use those other sources! Now, if you're not sure what to write, and you're looking for ideas, those sites can be a good place to start. However, once you have an idea, exit immediately. Do some real research. Dig deep. Find the experts. Not only will your professors appreciate your thoroughness, but you might actually learn something.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Email Etiquette

Email etiquette is necessary, especially when communicating with professors, colleagues, and your boss. Although as a society we've shorted words and phrases to mere letters (lol - laughing out loud, ttyl - talk to you later, or wdteg - where did the elephant go), they have no place in an email. Emails appear to be informal, but that informal email can be forwarded to every single person with an account at the click of a button. Therefore, you need to make sure it is well composed. Who wants to be known for bad writing on an already scandalous email (I'm just assuming it's scandalous if it's good enough to be forwarded to everyone)?

When writing an email, start with a greeting. It does not need to be super formal, but here are a few examples:

Professors - "Dr. Smith," or "Prof. Smith," if you are unsure if they have a doctorate.
Boss - "Mrs. Courtney,"
Colleague - "WASSUP CASEY!" Okay, bad example. Try, "Hey Casey,"

Then include a body of well-constructed sentences. Example:

"I was reviewing my notes from your Monday and Wednesday American literature class, and I still don't understand why Ginsberg was HOWLing?"

Make sure to use capitalization and punctuation. Also, use the spell check. Nothing looks worse than a person who doesn't spend the extra 10 seconds to double check their work.

And always end with your name:

Johnny Doe"

Before you hit send, read your email again. These guidelines are simple and easy to follow, but they'll take you a long way. You can talk to your friends however you want, but when you're in a professional setting, you want to be professional.

Purdue's OWL (online writing lab) has a great page with tons of information concerning other aspects of email etiquette.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How To Use Your Writing Center

We here at the Writing Center love to help. We love discussing comma splices, gerunds, and split infinitives, but, most of all, we love helping you. You are what we're here for. However, over the years, we've discovered (or uncovered?) the best ways to utilize us a tool to improve your writing and your GPA.

1. DO NOT come in 5 – 30 minutes before your paper is due. Don’t even come in that day. Please make an appointment, and come in a few days or a week before it’s due. We might give you ideas on how to strengthen and develop your paper, and we’d probably like to see you again before it’s due.

2. DO NOT text, browse the internet, or talk on your phone while you’re with us. You might miss something very important to the paper or your own writing (plus – it’s just rude people).

3. DO have questions. Not only are your questions answered when you ask, but it makes us feel smart when we answer them.

4. DO make an appointment if you can. The JU Writing Center prioritizes by appointments and then it’s first come, first serve.

5. REALIZE that we might not catch every mistake in your paper, but if you listen to what we have to say when we point out areas you need to work on and give you tips on how to catch your own errors (like reading your paper aloud – it works!) then you can catch them on your own.

6. DO come in.

7. DO come often.