Writing Madness Consolation Post #10 – Getting Started!

We’ve completed our Writing Madness event for the month of March, but we still have to tell you about the “winning” topic! Today we have some tips and tricks for how to get started on your writing assignments. Read on for more!

by Sarah

Well, you’ve done it again, UIS. Two years in a row you’ve selected one of the most intangible topics as the most frustrating writing issue. Getting started. I’ll admit, I’m not sure how I want to get started with this post, other than noting that I also find it frustrating at times (right now being a prime example).

When you’re handed an assignment that you need to complete by a specific deadline, it can be a very daunting prospect. Knowing you have to turn out 6 or 8 or 15 pages in a couple of weeks is a crazy thought, and if you don’t stop yourself from getting overwhelmed, it can be almost impossible to step back and try to plan out how you might attack that assignment. Even shorter assignments of only 2-3 pages can seem like a mountain to climb when you don’t know how to begin.

Interestingly, getting started effectively on writing assignments hinges very closely on our runner-up topic, time management. See that blog post from yesterday for tips and tricks on how to make sure you follow the schedule set forth for each project.

But when talking about getting start, specifically, we have three very specific tips for you to make sure you avoid the anxiety and stress that comes with each new project you’re asked to write.

Scrutinize that assignment sheet

Most writing assignments you’re asked to undertake will be presented to you in some sort of prompt or assignment sheet that provides guidelines and expectations for how your professor wants you to approach the project. It’s super duper important that you understand that prompt inside and out before you undertake any decision making with what you want to write about, research you need to conduct, and anything else related to your work.

When looking at a prompt, it’s good to check out any key details you need to know, which can include things like the following:

  • Due date
  • Word count or page length
  • Research requirements
  • Formatting requirements

It’s also important to know the purpose, topic, and scope the assignment requires. Sometimes it’s very specific and you don’t have a lot of choices to make, but other times it’s very open and you have to determine your focus for yourself.

Try to identify key words or important action verbs (like describe, analyze, synthesize, apply, or evaluate) that dictate the approach you need to take on the assignment. Annotate everything that helps you understand what you need to do, and rewrite it into your own words, so that the way forward becomes clearer and easier for you.

The Learning Hub has a handy handout on how to read prompts that you can find here. We highly, highly recommend having it in your back pocket to reference anytime your professors give you a new prompt.

Freewrite

Once you know what you need to do for a project, by scrutinizing your prompt, you should take time to explore your options for your topic. Rather than deciding right away, think about freewriting for a brief period of time to lay down on the page everything that you know, everything you don’t know, and anything that interests you that might be appropriate for the assignment. Don’t feel obligated to stay focused on one particular thing – take time to articulate anything that might fit the assignment expectations, so that you give yourself choices, written down on the page, to pursue.

After a general first freewrite, you can then decide on a more specific direction, and freewrite again with a focus on that new direction. Continue freewriting as many times as you’d like to help you narrow down a topic and make getting started a less stressful prospect.

When freewriting, it is important that you do not stop writing or typing during the entire duration you set for the task. If you don’t know what to write, simply keep writing “I don’t know what to write” over and over, or else write nonsense, like “blue baseball” to keep your pen moving or your fingers typing. Once your brain stops spinning its wheels and figures out the new direction to go in, take yourself there. If you do your freewrite on your computer and you can turn your monitor off or cover it with a piece of paper or something, it will free your brain up from getting stuck on typing mistakes and let your thoughts flow freely.

The Learning Hub has a handout on freewriting that you can find here. It helps you understand what freewriting is, how you can undertake it, and why it’s a useful prewriting tactic you should adopt as part of your writing process.

Come to The Learning Hub

Yeah, no joke. One of our biggest pieces of advice if you get stuck getting started is to ask for help. The Learning Hub’s writing tutors are happy to help you at any stage of the writing process, which includes the initial stages. We can go over a prompt with you, help you explore topic ideas, determine research questions, and maybe even begin outlining for a draft. One of the best things a person can do is learn when to ask for help, and The Hub is one of the most helpful places on campus!

Contact The Learning Hub here to make an appointment, and be prepared for us to put you to work getting started on your writing projects!

*

Thank you to everyone who participated in our Writing Madness event this month. We hope you’ve found all of our advice helpful in combating all of the frustrating writing issues you’ve encountered, and that you take us up on some of them as you work toward beating your writer’s block!

Now go and get started!

Writing Madness Consolation Post #9 – Time Management!

We’ve completed our Writing Madness event for the month of March, but we still have a couple of tasks left to complete. The runner up and winning topics deserve some love. Today we have some tips and tricks for how to handle your time management so that you successfully meet deadlines, accomplish projects, and avoid stress. Read on for more!

by Alec

Although it was unsuccessful in its quest to win this years Writing Madness competition hosted by The Learning Hub, the topic of time management has proven itself once again to be a formidable problem for student writers… but why?

For student writers, time management serves two purposes. First, it allows them to meet deadlines. One of the most important skills to learn in college is the ability to meet deadlines for they are the foundation of American business culture. Deadlines serve a number of purposes in the “real world” after college because they ensure productivity, help to prioritize goals, and are a reliable metric for employers to measure success in the workplace. If students are unable to learn how to meet deadlines, then it will be difficult for future employers to take them seriously as an applicant. For the student writer, this means that time management will help them meet the deadlines for writing assignments set forth by the instructor. If it’s on the syllabus, a good time manager will ensure that the assignment is complete and turned in. This often has the added benefit of avoiding late penalties which unnecessarily lower grades.

The second purpose that time management serves for the student writer is that it gives them time to successfully complete the assignment. In college, it is not good enough to simply turn an assignment in on time if it has not properly met the assignment criteria. Proper time management includes knowing what needs to get done, how to get it done, and (most importantly) how to get it done on time. This means breaking larger projects into smaller, more manageable objectives that concludes with the final product that is turned in. Sometimes this work will be done by the professor and pre-built into the course through the use of project proposals, literature reviews, and drafting stages which each having their own deadlines. However, some professors will mention the project once, tell you about their office hours, and expect that you do all of the work by the end of the semester.

We at The Learning Hub felt it was appropriate to help you break this project, of improving your time management skills, into small pieces so that you can start taking steps to becoming a better manager of your time. Listed below are 5 steps you can take before the end of this semester to help get your time management under control!

**

Get a Planner

The first step you should take for better time management is to obtain a planner. Most importantly, you should obtain a planner that you will actually use. There are many different types of planners to meet the needs of many different types of students, namely paper planners, bullet journals, and mobile device applications. Paper journals come in free printables online or as bound designer books and can be found in daily, weekly, or even monthly formats depending on your needs. Bullet journals are another good option because you can purchase a formatted one or create your own from a notebook or loose sheets of paper. Finally, there are a plethora of apps on numerous platforms that can help you manage your time more effectively on your smart device and they range from free or native apps, which often come built-in, or purchasable from $0.99 to $49.99 with added features.

Set Priorities

After you have obtained your planner it is important to think about what time-consumers are most important in your life. As a student it is common that classes, extracurricular activities, and personal activities will all be categories of time-consumers. List out what your priorities are. Items at the top of the list are what are most important to you while those at the bottom of the list are less so. This will require some compromising on your part as well as realism. While your underwater basket weaving hobby might be very important to you, is it worth skipping class for? No. This list will not only give perspective about how time should be spent, but will also help to make decisions when confronted with time conflicts in the future. This list doesn’t need to be all-encompassing at the beginning but should be something that evolves as time goes on.

Write in the Planner

Now that you know what is most important in your life you should start figuring out just how much time each of these priorities take. Ensure that you list the most pressing commitments including classes, meetings and important events first so that you know you will have time etched out for them. You will also need to know which activities have flexible or inflexible schedules. Classes, for example, are at a set time each week which cannot be changed. Homework, on the other hand, can be completed at your leisure as long as you meet the deadline. Once you have listed out your inflexible schedule then you can see more clearly where the flexible schedule items will fill in.

Make a List

Next, it is important to make a to-do list which contains all of your commitments, projects, and assignments. Analyze each item on the to-do list and identify if it needs to be broken into larger pieces. Once you have identified the larger projects, and have broken them down into smaller pieces then you can set deadlines for when those smaller objectives should be accomplished. It is important to plan time for the entire writing process, including drafting and revising. Plan time to meet with your instructor before the assignment is due or plan to make an appointment with The Learning Hub. This will help ensure that you are not only meeting the deadline but that you are meeting the assignment criteria as well.

Be Realistic

The most important part of time management is being realistic. All students are different and necessarily think about, and use, their time in different ways. Feel free to adjust any of these steps to be more effective for your personal situation. Also, ensure that you are planning time for yourself so that you can relax. You will not be productive if you work yourself into a nervous breakdown because you are working too hard. Finally, consider what times you are most productive. If you are not a morning person then you should not schedule homework time for the morning. Likewise, if you like to have weekends off… that’s okay! You simply have to ensure that you are completing tasks expected of you during the week so that you relax guilt-free. It is important that the tools that you choose are ones that you know you’ll enjoy using so that you can be effective in accomplishing your goals.

**

If you have a question about how to manage your time more effectively, you can make an appointment with the Academic Skills Specialist at The Learning Hub. Additionally, if you have a few pressing writing projects, you can make an appointment to meet with a member of our writing staff.

Stay tuned for information to help you with the most frustrating writing issue students identified this semester: Getting Started. Coming soon!

Writing Madness Consolation Post #8 – Citations!

The third round of our Writing Madness bracket has concluded, which left us with two writing issues that won’t be participating in the next round of voting. The Learning Hub’s writing staff will be presenting them over the next few days along with specific resources to help you overcome your frustrations with them. This time? Citations!

by Raven

If you are a student who has written any kind of academic document, then odds are that you’ve been asked to use a citation style. There are several styles that are in place depending on your field of study, and they all have a set of complex rules that require attention to detail. Many students see these citation systems as pointless or a way for their professors to get some kind of sick, twisted enjoyment out of their pain. Professorial conspiracies aside, citations are a staple of academic discourse, and you won’t be able to get away from them. Despite the difficulty of a citation style, there are ways to work through the struggles and make it a less tedious task. Below are three techniques I use when dealing with citation styles.

Note it

When you are researching a topic, you should be keeping careful notes of each source that you find. If you haven’t been doing that, today’s a good day to start. Your notes, in addition to documenting parts of the source itself, should also include bibliographic information about your source. Keeping track of this information early in the process will make it easier for you to utilize a citation style. Having access to all the information that goes in to a bibliography page cuts down the amount of time you have to spend on it considerably since you don’t have to relocate your sources.

Do it as You Go

No one ever said that you had to do your bibliographic page last. For some, this may be the preferred process, but for others, writing the bibliographic page as they incorporate a source into their paper might prove more helpful. The source’s information is fresh in your mind, and it is not difficult to rearrange or delete sources later.

Seek Resources

As mentioned above, citation styles are complex. They have a lot of rules, and those take a while to learn. Even a seasoned citation user has to double check their work to make sure that they have been thorough and included the maximum amount of information required for the citation to do its job. Listed below are resources that will be helpful as you utilize a number of citation styles:

APA (6th Edition)

MLA (7th edition)

MLA 8th Edition

Chicago (Turabian)

Don’t see your citation style you’ve been asked to use listed here? Contact The Learning Hub to see if we can help you sort out your citation struggles and make sure you’re properly referencing all your research in your writing projects!

Don’t forget to vote in our championship round of our Writing Madness event! Voting closes at 12:00pm CST on Tuesday, March 27th!

Writing Madness Consolation Post #7 – Flow of Ideas!

The third round of our Writing Madness bracket has concluded, which left us with two writing issues that won’t be participating in the next round of voting. The Learning Hub’s writing staff will be presenting them over the next few days along with specific resources to help you overcome your frustrations with them. This time? Flow of Ideas!

by Brock

Flow is one of those frustrating things that your professor may flag as something that could improve in your paper.  But what exactly do they mean by this?

via GIPHY

There are different levels of a paper (from organization to sentence level) where flow should be considered.  First, consider the order of points you make.  If organized well, your points will come together to build an argument.  Ask yourself what point should be made first in order to understand your other points, or if there are points more important than the others and whether they should be placed at the beginning or the end.  The Hub’s handouts on logical, chronological, and hierarchical organization will help explain this further.

via GIPHY

The next level of organization is the paragraph.  The way you structure your paragraph affects the clarity of what you are saying.  Do you start with a clear transition from the previous paragraph and a new topic sentence?  Are the sentences ordered in a way that best supports the topic sentence?  Finally, do you end the paragraph that reinforces your topic sentence or begins the transition to the next point?  The Hub’s handout on Body Paragraphs provides easy-to-follow guidelines to ensure your paragraphs flow well. We also hold a workshop on this topic each semester, so check out our schedule to attend next fall! Well-structured paragraphs contribute to a good flow of ideas and are guaranteed to make your professor do a happy dance.

via GIPHY

Finally, what is a well-structured paragraph without clear sentences?  You may have great, well-ordered ideas, but clunky sentences will distract from that.  See the Hub’s handouts on sentence patterns and writing clear and concise sentences for a refresher on sentence elements and structure.  If you pay attention to each level of structure, the flow of your paper is sure to improve and put a smile on your professor’s face.

via GIPHY

It’s not too late to vote in our last round of our Writing Madness event! Click here to cast your vote on the championship battle taking place right now! Voting ends at 12:00pm CST on Tuesday, March 27th, when we will reveal the most frustrating writing issue for UIS students this year!

Writing Madness Consolation Post #6 – Annotated Bibliographies!

The second of our Writing Madness bracket has concluded, which left us with four writing issues that won’t be participating in the next round of voting. The Learning Hub’s writing staff have picked two of these four, and over the next few days we will be presenting them along with specific resources to help you overcome your frustrations with them. This time? Annotated Bibliographies!

by Patrick

For the most part, and as some experts have phrased it before, an annotated bibliography contains the name of the document and some notes below it. As simple as that! Some requirements do exist though.

The bibliographic info must go at the top of the page in correct MLA, or APA (or the style of your choice) with a hanging indent; meaning only the first line is flushed with the left margin, while the rest are indented.

Next, you are to write the notes pertaining to that particular document right below the bibliographic lines.  Usually, most of the annotated bibliographies that I have done or dealt with, do the following:

  1. Give a brief overview of the problem and research
  2. Tell the reader of the main findings in the research
  3. Evaluate the experiment and/or source. Checks for biases and limitations.
  4. Explain why it will be use in a research paper, and how it fits in that into that particular discussion.

Annotated bibliographies can vary a tad depending on your professor. For a couple of different takes on how to do one, check out these links to Purdue Owl, and Cornell University’s website.

Embedded below is The Learning Hub’s own handout on Annotated Bibliographies – check it out to learn more!

Writing Madness Consolation Post #5 – Repetition!

The first second of our Writing Madness bracket has concluded, which left us with four writing issues that won’t be participating in the next round of voting. The Learning Hub’s writing staff have picked two of these four, and over the next few days we will be presenting them along with specific resources to help you overcome your frustrations with them. This time? Repetition!

by Kaylan

When writing a paper, it is common for students to struggle with repetition.  This seems to be a common occurrence when students are running out of paragraph ideas to write about or students may not have the best grasp on a topic so they say the same idea in different words.  Repetition can come in the form of repeating the same word, phrase, or idea frequently.  While repetition can drive a point home, it can also distract readers because it can take away from the clear and concise nature of a paper.  A good, thorough read-through after writing a paper can help a writer determine areas of repetition.  In addition to a good read-through, here is a good list of rules to avoid repetition when writing a paper:

Essay Writing: 7 Rules to Avoid Repetition

This article offers seven quick tips to help writers avoid repetition within a paper.  Avoiding repetition in a paper enhances the flow and ease of readability of the ideas presented.  Although it may seem easy to fall into the trap of repetition, it is also very easy to avoid repetition following the rules listed in the article above.

Writing Madness Consolation Post #4 – Sentence Structure!

The first round of our Writing Madness bracket has concluded, which left us with eight writing issues that won’t be participating in the next round of voting. The Learning Hub’s writing staff have picked four of these eight, and over the next week we will be presenting them along with specific resources to help you overcome your frustrations with them. This time? Sentence Structure!

by Sidney

Sentences come in many shapes and sizes. At its simplest, a sentence contains a subject and a predicate. In the simple sentence, “the dog runs,” the subject is “the dog” and the predicate is “runs.” However, sentences can be a lot more complicated. Sentence structure is largely a matter of style, but there are four main sentence forms: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Here is a handout detailing these types of sentence structures.

When writing anything from a blog post to an academic paper, it is important to use a mixture of short and long sentences. This will add variety to your writing and create a dynamic experience for your reader. However, crafting long sentences can be tricky. Commas and semicolons can be confusing.

Commas instruct a reader to pause. Commas are needed after introductory phrases, before conjunctions, when making lists, around dependent clauses (phrases in a sentence that are not necessary to meaning, but provide extra information), and in other situations. Here is a handout on commas. An intuitive way to tell if you need a comma is to read your sentence out loud and see if the pause makes sense.

Semicolons can be used in complex lists or to connect two independent, but related sentences. Here is a handout on semicolons.

The Learning Hub offers many handouts regarding sentence style and structure. Embedded below are a few others that might be helpful when thinking about sentence structure, but there are many more that might be helpful. Learning about sentence structure is an ongoing part of improving one’s writing skills and truly a lifelong process.

Clauses and Phrases

Style Strategies

Writing Clear and Concise Sentences