This page is meant to provide you with suggestions on the writing process.
Most of these tips are geared towards a Writing 100 or English assignment, but
can, of course, be adapted for other disciplines. If you are looking for information
about grammar or punctuation, try the mechanics page.
To ensure that you can get the time that's best for you, it's a good idea to
schedule your appointment at least two days in advance. We do accept walk-ins,
but we cannot guarantee that a tutor will be available at any given time.
We realize that things come up, and you cannot always keep your appointment.
If this happens, please call ahead so we may give the time slot to someone else.
If you are 15 minutes late for an appointment, we will assume you are not coming,
and we will accept any walk-ins at that point. In either case, you are always
free to reschedule.
Because sessions last only 50 minutes, it is best to come with a specific
goal in mind. Do you want to brainstorm ideas to get started? Do you want
to work on organization? Are you concerned about the appropriateness of the
language for your audience? Are you saying too much or too little about your
topic? Make the most of your time by having a goal.
Also keep in mind that the tutor might bring up an issue you might not have
thought of before. If you disagree, that's not a problem at all – this is your
piece of writing. We encourage you to keep an open mind, but we realize that
you must decide what will work best for your audience.
Try not to come in the day your paper is due. Leave enough time after the
session to reflect on what you discussed with the tutor and to make changes, if
necessary. You may also want to schedule another appointment to discuss the
paper further before handing it in.
If you make an appointment for an academic piece, please bring a copy of the
assignment with you so that both you and the tutor know exactly what is expected.
If you have any questions about the assignment, it's always best, if possible, to
ask your professor about it before you come in for your session.
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If you are given an assignment, read it over several times to be sure you
understand it. Don't be afraid to ask questions if something is unclear.
Immediately jot down some ideas. What are your thoughts on the topic? How
much do you know about it? You might even want to choose a position for your
paper right away.
If you are not given a specific topic, you will have to do some extra
brainstorming before you begin writing. Again, consider what you know about
the general topic, and what interests you about it. For instance, if the paper
must be about Hamlet, but the instructor did not specify any topic, you have a
wide variety of choices. You could discuss whether or not you think Hamlet was
insane, the importance of the ghost, the role of Ophelia, or a multitude of other
Now that you have a topic and possibly a position on it, will you need to do
outside research? If so, start gathering sources right away. A good place to
start is the James P. Adams library at Rhode Island College (http://www.ric.edu/adamslibrary/). Our library also offers access to the HELIN system, used by Rhode Island Universities, which allows you to request books from the comfort of your own home (or one of the computer labs) and have them sent to the RIC library.
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Once you have a topic, a position, and some extra sources for backup...what
now? For starters, it might help you to make a list of the major points you
want to include in your paper. This can also help you if you have not yet
chosen a position for your topic. Here is an example of what this might look
- He sees a ghost
- He speaks in circles
- He plays with Ophelia's emotions
- Other characters see it too
- He told his friends he would seem mad
- Ophelia hurt him; he could be acting out of jealousy or revenge
This side-by-side method can be very effective for persuasive writing. You
have your opposition's point of view right in front of you, so you can easily
disprove it if you have enough evidence to support your own claims. Alternatives
to a list could include web diagrams. Using these, you start with the main topic
in the center and "branch out" to more specific areas. You have the chance to
be creative at this stage, so you might want to play a little by using colored
markers or even 3-dimensional building toys to draw, map out, and "build" your
Now you must consider the order in which you want to say things. It's
generally a good idea to start with an introduction, which can vary greatly in
length from a paragraph to a page or more depending on how much background
information you need to include. You may want to start with a very general
statement ("Shakespeare wrote some great plays") and gradually narrow it down
to the specific topic of your paper. Or, you may want to begin your introduction in a more creative
way with a dialogue, a story, or a quote from an expert on Shakespearean tragedies.
Somewhere in your introduction, you may want to let your reader know what will
be your position in the rest of your paper. This is generally referred to as the
thesis statement, though it can be longer than a single sentence. It need not
summarize all you plan to say, but should serve to guide your reader through your
The body of your essay will be divided into logical sections. If you only
have two pieces of evidence to support your position, that's not a very strong
paper. On the other hand, if you try to cram nine different sections into a
three-page essay, that's overkill. Find a happy medium. In the above Hamlet
example, I used three main ideas because, quite frankly, that's all I could
think of off the top of my head. You, on the other hand, might be able to come
up with five main points. Nothing wrong with that. Just make sure that you
have some kind of evidence to support them. Also, keep in mind that we're talking about sections,
not necessarily paragraphs. Take as long as you need to explain your point
thoroughly, and as soon as you do, move on to something else.
The end is in sight! Time to wrap up your paper.
Take a little time to let your
readers down easy. For an essay about Hamlet, you may choose to
summarize a few of your most salient points and end with a general statement.
But, as with the introduction, you may want to be more creative. Perhaps you
could offer an alternate ending, or theorize how a modern jury would view Hamlet.
For other types of writing, you may want to elicit some sort of response from
your reader. For instance, if you're writing about the dangers of rabies, you
may ask your readers to make sure their pets are immunized.
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Don't Do This!
Scenario: This 7-page paper is worth 60% of your grade and it's due in two
hours! Panic! You only have five pages. If you're like most of us, you'll be
tempted to try one or several of the following tricks to pad your paper:
- Increasing the font size
- Changing the font to Veranda or some other huge typeface
- Increasing the margins
- Using extra spacing
- Repeating information in different words
- Saying the same thing more than once but in another way (case in point)
These visual cues scream, "I didn't complete the assignment, but I want it
to look that way. Maybe you won't notice." Your professor will notice. So how
can you meet the requirement without these tricks? Well, sorry to say, if it
really is due in two hours, you are pretty much out of luck. Hand in your five
pages and see what happens. With some careful planning, however, you can avoid
this scenario entirely. Take a look at the getting started
section for tips on planning your paper. If you find that you come up a little
short, try adding another main point to your essay. Read some outside sources
for inspiration. Don't forget, you can always come to the Writing Center for
some more suggestions.
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You may have been taught to avoid the passive voice at all costs. Most of the
time, this is good advice. Consider the following example:
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Active: John threw the ball to Mary.
Passive: The ball was thrown to Mary by John.
Obviously, the active voice creates a clearer picture in the reader's mind
in that example. But now consider this:
Active: His girlfriend's reaction to the news shocked Thomas.
Passive: Thomas was shocked by his girlfriend's reaction to the news.
In this example, the passive voice may be the better choice for two reasons:
1) The subject, "his girlfriend's reaction to the news", is long, forcing the
reader to remember at least four pieces of information before even reaching the
2) This depends entirely on the rest of the piece, but the passive voice
implies that the important part of the sentence is not the girlfriend's reaction,
but how it affected Thomas. By using the passive voice wisely, you can control
the flow of sentences and their emphasis.
This is one of the simplest ways of maintaining clarity in your discussion,
and it is simple to achieve. Simply make sure that words in a series are from
the same part of speech (nouns, verbs, etc.):
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Parallel: Asbestos, cigarette smoke, and radon all cause lung cancer.
Not parallel: Asbestos, smoking cigarettes, and radon all cause lung cancer.
Parallel: In the summer, I enjoy swimming, bike riding, and painting.
Not parallel: In the summer, I enjoy swimming, bike riding, and to paint.
Use of First Person
You may also have heard that the first person (I, me, we, us, etc.) has no
place in formal writing. This can be true sometimes, but it is more a matter
of opinion and personal style. For instance, if you have strong feelings about
a piece of literature, you might very well want to say, "My first reaction to
this piece was total disbelief," and then support your statement with reasons
why this was the case. On the other hand, be careful that your use of first
person does not weaken your argument. Consider the following:
- I believe Hamlet is mad. It seems to me that he speaks in circles, and he
admits to seeing a ghost. I think this is evidence that he is not in his
- Hamlet is mad. He speaks in circles and admits to seeing a ghost. This is
evidence that he is not in his right mind.
Have conviction in your opinions! The first example tiptoes around the
real meaning that the author wants to express. By adding unnecessary words
like "I think" or "my opinion is," you are not only making your sentences longer
and more wordy, you are also watering down your argument. The second example
seems stronger because the author comes right out and says what he means, without
making excuses like, "well, this is just what I think." Also, keep in mind that
what you say in your paper is obviously your opinion. After all, you're the one
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