Writing Center Student Resources

Writing Center Student Resources

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The Writing Center's goal is to work with writers to explore and develop their ideas, to become aware of the needs of their readers, and to learn the rhetorical and syntactical strategies needed for effective communication.

Office Hours

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 8:30 am–6 pm
Wednesday, 8:30 am– 6 pm
Location: Adams Library, Level 1

Making Your Appointment 

  • Find the time best for your schedule (at least two days in advance).
  • We do accept walk-ins, but we cannot guarantee that a tutor will be available. 
  • If you are going to be at least 15 minutes late to your appointment, call ahead! 
  • Sessions are only 50 minutes - so come with a special goal in mind.
  • Be aware that the tutor might bring up issues you haven't though of before -- if you disagree, that's not a problem because this is your piece of writing. Keep an open mind! 
  • Don't come in the day your paper is due. Leave enough time to reflect on what was discussed with your tutor to make the necessary changes. 
  • If you are making an appointment for an academic piece, please bring a copy of the assignment with you so that you and the tutor know what exactly is expected.

Getting Ready for your Appointment

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. 

  • Start by jotting down 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.
  • Brainstorm if you have not been given a specific topic. Consider what you know about the general topic, think about what interests you. 
  • Outside research might be needed. Start by gathering sources right away, a good place to go is the James P. Adams Library, which offers HELIN system, allowing you to request books from the comfort of your own home and have them sent to the RIC Library.

Writing Mechanics & Style Tips

The apostrophe is used most commonly to show possession, as in "Mary's bike" or "the students' poems." For a singular noun, always add 's. An easy way to remember whether to add 's or just ' to a plural noun is to look at the end of the word. If there is already an S present, you do not need to add another:

I met my friend's wife yesterday. (one friend)
I met my friends' wives yesterday. (more than one friend)

The boy's dog is huge. (one boy)
The boys' dog is huge. (more than one boy)

She fought for the woman's rights. (one woman)
She fought for women's rights. (more than one woman, but the plural word does not already end in S. Similar plural nouns are "men" and "children.")

Marcus' car is in the shop. (the name ends in S; there is no reason to add another)
Marcus's car is in the shop. (this usage is gaining popularity, but the added S is still unnecessary)

There is one exception to the above rules:

Its teeth were sharp. (this is the possessive form)
It's a horrible sight! (this form is a contraction of IT IS, and is never used as a possessive)
Its' (does not exist!)

Of course, there's always the problem of their/there/they're:

Their parents were gone all night. (possessive)
There were 100 people there. ("there" indicates a place, or with the verb "to be" to indicate existence)
They're in big trouble now! (this form is a contraction of THEY ARE)

The apostrophe can also be used to form a contraction of two words, as seen in the above examples. The apostrophe can take the place of ONE or TWO letters:

I am --> I'm
Do not --> don't
She will --> she'll

When making proper names plural, the apostrophe is never used:

The Smiths live here.
The Smith's live here.

The apostrophe can, however, be used to make letters and numbers plural:

Norman got all A's on his report card.
We studied the early 1900's today.

ONE comma is used to separate ideas within a sentence. TWO commas are used to set off ideas; you should be able to remove what is between the commas and still have a complete sentence that makes sense.

ONE comma is used:

  1. Between items in a list:

    Don't forget to pick up bread, cheese, steaks, and milk. (4 items)
    Don't forget to pick up bread, cheese steaks, and milk. (3 items)

  2. Between adjectives:

    She wore a beautiful, luminous, extravagant wedding gown.

  3. Between independent clauses (meaning they can each stand as separate sentences) joined by a conjunction:

    Jim forgot to empty the garbage, and his mother wasn't happy about it.
    I called three times, but no one was home.
    Betty didn't make the cheerleading team, nor did she really want to.

  4. To introduce material separate from the subject:

    After eating, we played ball at the park.
    In my opinion, the world can do without corn dogs.
    If you kids don't stop fighting, I'll turn this car around right now!

TWO commas are used:

  1. When addressing people by name:

    Let's eat Grandma before it gets too late. (run, granny, run!!)
    Let's eat, Grandma, before it gets too late.

  2. To identify or define:

    Carol, my secretary, joined me for lunch yesterday.
    We tried Bingles, the new restaurant next door to our office, for a quick bite.

  3. When interrupting the sentence:

    Carlos Santana is, in my opinion, a great artist.
    He can't compare, however, to Jimi Hendrix.

  4. To set off unnecessary material:

    Tara's mother, who is a wonderful cook, baked brownies for our club.

    Note: Do not set off necessary material:

    Women who are pregnant should not smoke.

To avoid comma splices (joining two complete sentences with a comma) and run-on sentences (not using punctuation to join parts of a sentence), the semicolon can be useful. Simply put, the semicolon joins two complete sentences that are closely related.


Comma splice: I don't like the circus, the clowns scare me.
Run-on: I don't like the circus the clowns scare me.
Correct: I don't like the circus; the clowns scare me.

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:

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 verb, "shocked".


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.):

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.

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 right mind.
  • 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 writing it.

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. 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.

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 like:


Hamlet's mad Hamlet's sane
  1. He sees a ghost

  2. He speaks in circles

  3. He plays with Ophelia's emotions
  1. Other characters see it too

  2. He told his friends he would seem mad

  3. 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 paper.


The Introduction

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 paper.


The Body

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 Conclusion

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.

APA Style

Format Correctly

  1. The setup of the paper as a whole
  2. The method of citing sources 

The American Psychological Association format has a reputation for being difficult, but, like anything else, it just takes some getting used to. You can pick up a style sheet explaining all APA rules in the Writing Center, but here are some of the basics.

General Layout

Your essay should be typed in a 12-pt font, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins on all sides. Each of the following sections (if applicable) should start on a new page:

  • Title page, including a running head, title and byline and affiliation
  • Abstract
  • Body
  • References 
  • Appendixes 
  • Author note
  • Endnotes
  • Tables
  • Figure captions
  • Figures

Quotations in Text

When quoting another source in your paper, you should include the author's name and the date in the body of your text:

Jones (1976) examined the affect of color on newborns.
In 1976, Jones examined the affect of color on newborns.
In an experiment examining the affect of color on newborns (Jones, 1976),

If you are citing a source with no author, such as a website, use an abbreviated version of the title:

Camden's findings revolutionized the study of fossils ("Paleontology," 1995).

For short quotations (fewer than 40 words, or about 2 detailed sentences), enclose the quoted material in quotation marks in your text and include a page number. The period goes after the parenthesis:

According to Kingsly (1999), "Men think about sex once every five minutes" (p. 278).

For longer quotations (block quotes), indent quoted material an extra five spaces from the margin. Maintain double-spacing. There is no need to include quotation marks here, because it is obviously a quote. After completing the quotation, you may resume your discussion using the original margins

Rawlinson's 1984 study found the following:

A mere 3% of the mice treated with mercury injections finished the maze in under one minute. This could be due to the fact the mercury is lethal, and we had no business giving it to mice. In the next experiment, I shall inject myself with mercury and run the race to prove my superiority to rodents. (p. 476) (The period goes before the parenthesis.)

Rawlinson died shortly after from complications involving mercury in his blood stream. He never completed the maze.


General Rules: Invert authors' names (Last, First), and alphabetize by authors' last name. If using more than one source by the same author, list them in order of publication year, oldest to newest. Use "&" instead of "and". Use a hanging indentation (see example). Capitalize only the first word of titles and subtitles, and italicize titles of books and journals.

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year, add month and day of publication for daily, weekly, or monthly publications). Title of article. Title of periodical, volume number, pages.

This is the basic guideline. Please consult one of the following sources for citation formats of other types of reference materials, including electronic text, magazine articles, etc.

For more information, go to:

MLA Format


The Modern Language Association (MLA) format is used for Eng​lish and Foreign Language papers. The MLA format is divided into three categories for easier access.

  1. General Format
  2. Handling Quotations in Your Text
  3. Works Cited

General Format

The paper should be typed in 12-pt font, double-spaced, with one-inch margins all around. For short essays (around three pages), put identifying information at the top of the first page, left alignment, and center the title.

For longer or more formal compositions, or if instructed to do so by your professor, you may want to use a title page. It should include the same information. The title will be centered horizontally and vertically on the page. All identifying information will then go on the bottom of the page, right alignment. (Also, there is no header or page number on the title page.)

Handling Quotations In Your Text

With each quotation, the author's name and page number must be used in the text.
For example:

If you mention the name of the author in the sentence then only the page is necessary in the citation.

Harry Winston states that "all gemstones are not created equal" (116).

If you do not mention the authors name then you must include it in the citation.

Many argue that "all gemstones are not created equal" (Winston 116).

Short Quotations

A short quote is considered fewer than four lines of prose or three lines of verse from your text:

According to many, "the use of gemstones in popular jewelry has tripled in the last five years" (Winston 225).

Notice the period comes after the citation. Periods, commas, and semicolons follow the general rule of appearing after the citation. Question marks and exclamation points appear after the citation only if they are a part of your text but included if they are part of the quoted passage:

"Real men don't wear jewelry!" (Winston 167).

Long Quotations

A quotation longer than four typed lines must be started on a new line, indented one inch from the margin. Maintain double-spacing. Here, the punctuation comes before the citation.

Hemmingway is famous for his short, concise sentences, illustrated in the following example taken from Dr. Valentini's dialogue in A Farewell to Arms:

"Let me see the plates. Yes. Yes. That's it. You look healthy as a goat. Who's the pretty girl? Is she your girl? I thought so. Isn't this a bloody war? How does that feel? You are a fine boy. I'll make you better than new. Does that hurt? You bet it hurts. How they love to hurt you, these doctors. What have they done for you so far? Can't that girl talk Italian? She should learn. What a lovely girl...." (99)

Works Cited Page

The works you have cited in your text should be listed on a separate page in the following general format with a hanging indent:

Author, A. Title of Book. Place of publication: Company Name, Year. (Web or Print.)

The following example also includes an editor:

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1988. 7 - 76. Print.

For more information about citing different types of sources, go to:

Chicago Style


The Rhode Island College History Department requires a style of documentation that differs from both the APA and the MLA formats. Style sheets that contain all of the guidelines are available in the department and at the Writing Center, but here are a few highlights:

  • If the assignment is an essay or a major report, it should have a title page containing the title, your name, the name of the course you are writing for, the date, and the name of your instructor.
  • Number your pages, except page one.
  • Double-space the text and only print on one side of the paper.
  • Make sure that you proofread your final copy before you turn it in. It is a good idea to have someone else read it, too.
  • Use footnotes. There are no concrete rules to cover the use of footnotes in every instance. However, footnotes are required in the following cases:
    Direct quotations
    • Controversial facts or opinions you derived from other sources
    • Statements/paraphrases from other sources that directly support the main points in the paper
    • Statistical information, charts, illustrations, graphs, maps, etc

Footnote Examples

Footnotes should be placed at the bottom of the page. If your professor permits, they may also be placed at the end of the text (making them endnotes) before your bibliography page.

When citing a source (book) for the first time, use this form:

John B. Wolf, Louis XIV (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1968), 351.

When the same source is cited consecutively, use Ibid., plus the page number if different. (Ibid. is short for ibidem, Latin, meaning "at the same place.")

Ibid., 375.

Later references to this same book (following other footnotes) require only the author's name:

Wolf, 403.

When citing from a magazine or a journal, this format is used:

Thomas Kelly, "Thucydides and Spartan Strategy in the Archidamian War," American Historical Review, vol. 87, No. 1 (February 1982), 25-54.

Citing from a newspaper employs this format:

British, in 1950, Helped Map Iraqui Invasion of Iran," New York Times, October 16, 1980, 17.

More Information about Footnotes

There are numerous variations, as well as other kinds of footnote forms for other types of documents, and for such details you should consult a handbook. Here are some suggestions:

  • Grey, Wood, et al. Historian's Handbook. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1964.
  • Strunk, William, Jr. The Elements of Style, 2nd edition (1972).
  • Turabian, Kate, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Themes, and Dissertations. 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
  • MLS Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. New York: Modern Language Association, 1977.

All papers should have a bibliography unless otherwise specified. This is a list of the sources you used, and it should be the last page (or pages) of your paper. The sources should be listed alphabetically and not numbered.​​

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Writing Center

The Writing Center's goal is to work with writers to explore and develop their ideas, to become aware of the needs of their readers, and to learn the rhetorical and syntactical strategies necessary for effective communication.