Steve’s Guide to Writing

Steve’s Guide to Writing

a/k/a Things I won’t be repeating as comments on your essays, but important things nonetheless.

First and foremost and MOST IMPORTANT: Get rid of the word “you” and don’t write like you talk.

There’s no room in academic discourse for the second person pronoun, so please refrain from “you” and all of its derivatives. Third person (“we”/”our”) is just about as bad, so please, use better nouns.

Don’t ask questions and then answer them. Don’t give your reader orders (“Imagine a world without plastic.”) Don’t write like you talk. Write like you’re writing, not talking.

You (and I) have no time for dull ideas or history lessons.

Readers don’t need definitions or history lessons. I’m (almost) never going to be interested in any writing that rehashes what’s already been said by others or merely repeats what’s already common knowledge. First and foremost, you want to approach everything you do for me — from topic selection to idea organization to source usage, right on down to word choice — with fresh thinking in mind.

I want your ideas to have some sort of vitality, an authenticity, a usefulness. In short, I want what you write to matter in more ways than simply completing an assignment.

How to keep a focus on fresh thinking:

  1. Choose topics that haven’t been written about a million times; so called “freshman English” topics will almost yield lower final grades.
  2. Choose topics that are really and truly relevant in 2021 and beyond.
  3. DO NOT start your essays with a history of your topic’s origins.
  4. Take risks, in your writing and in your thinking!

Keep your audience in mind as you write.

Your readers are discerning, sophisticated folks who are interested in what you have to say but who are also expecting your writing to have a clear purpose and a respectful approach. Treat your readers like intelligent people, and they’ll return the favor.

You can also count on your readers to know the history of your topic as well as the main ideas surrounding them, so don’t waste time giving history lessons.

Clarity of Purpose

Nobody’s telling you that your thesis statement needs to be a three-pronged sentence at the end of your intro paragraph, but all the same, readers who know early on what your essay’s goal tend to be more focused on the quality of your writing, your argument, etc.

Artfully tell readers where you’re going to take them, then take them there.

Respectful Approach

Your readers expect you keep a laserlike focus on your essay’s subject and the best way to maintain that focus on your ideas is to:

  1. One more time for the cheap seats: Never, ever, use the word “you” or any of its derivatives.
  2. Avoid “I think”- and “I believe”-type sentiments.
  3. Don’t ask too many questions.
  4. Definitely don’t ask a question then immediately answer it.
  5. Avoid writing like you talk. No: “You way be wondering…” “As you can see…”
  6. Punctuate properly: use apostrophes and commas appropriately.
  7. Use exclamation points extremely sparingly.

Think about what it’s like to be read.

What do you want your reader’s experience to be?

What should your reader come away with?

Bring vitality to your writing

Bring your writing to life.

Use vivid language and memorable phrases.

Vary how your sentences begin.

Sprinkle exotic punctuation into your writing:

  1. a semicolon (;) is a fancy period.
  2. a dash ( — ) is a dramatic pause.
  3. parentheses (()) can be used for humorous asides or trivia.

Keep readers up to speed

Your essay makes sense to you, of course, but it has to make sense to others as well.

  1. Lay out your essay’s goals early on (some people call this a thesis statement).
  2. Make each paragraph’s purpose clear at the beginning and the end.
  3. Use transitions between and within paragraphs to show readers how all your ideas relate to one another.

Take care of the little things

Little typos and careless errors have a way of adding up to a big distraction.

  1. Proofread carefully — there are lots of errors that spellcheck won’t catch.
  2. Cite properly — there are plenty of resources to help you. Take advantage of them.
  3. Mind your punctuation and grammar — essays with missing apostrophes don’t get A’s.
  4. Format correctly — If I have to make formatting changes for you, your grade will suffer.

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