Imagine going to a party fully expecting a widespread of treats to pick from, chips and dip, chocolate covered strawberries, mac ‘n cheese. Now picture yourself getting there and seeing nothing but a couple of chairs and some water bottles. Not much to work with, right? Well, we will provide the advice and the candy (we know the party rules!), but we need your contribution too! The worst is showing up to a party where everyone arrived with something except for you, don’t be that person.
After you make an appointment at the writing center (or in this analogy, get invited to the party) there are some things you should prepare before coming in. First, make sure you have a printed copy of your paper. This is very important. Without a printed copy the assistant won’t be able to leave you with hands-on notes to reference after you leave. We want to be able to highlight, underline, write comments, and if only a computer is available for us it makes that process more time-consuming and less effective.
It’s also important to arrive with your prompt in hand. Keep in mind the assistant isn’t in your class and may not have taken it, if they don’t understand what question you’re supposed to be answering, they won’t understand how to help you. So, if you want to get the most out of your appointment, bring the prompt! Your professor most likely gave you a sheet of paper with the essay topic and some guidelines to follow, we want to see that to ensure we’re giving you correct information and not straying away from your professor’s wants.
One of the things your writing assistant will ask when you come in is “what are your concerns with this?” or “what do you want me to specifically help you with?” If you have certain areas of your paper you would like to see improved, coming up with these beforehand creates a vision for the direction of the appointment. Need help with organization? We’re your guys. Thesis statement? No problem. To give you an idea of what I mean I’ll give you some examples of our most popular demands, not including the two just mentioned: grammar, citations, clarity, does the paper answer the question, transitions, and research/sources.
While we are more than happy to give you our general suggestions, having more specific goals will make your paper the best that it can be and will have you leaving the center more satisfied. The party won’t be fun if you come empty-handed, so bring a printed copy of your paper, the prompt, and some questions for us.
Can a balanced life truly produce a beautiful paper? This advice almost sounds like it came directly from your mom. Honestly, I do not believe she is wrong. Discovering how to balance your daily routine does wonders for your academics and most notably essay writing.
What exactly does a balanced life look like? Personally, it all starts with time management. I recommend making a list of all the things you need to do and want to do. (Don’t forget to include deadlines!!!) Based on the list created, then allocate specific days and time to complete the work. For example, after Chem class ends at 12:00 then I plan an hour to do homework followed by an hour at the gym. After time at the gym, I have 40 minutes to grab lunch and go to Psychology. Living with balance in life requires intentional planning with time in order to accomplish all of your goals. In addition, being balanced goes beyond just living as a student. It means making time to eat, exercise, volunteer, and relax in addition to doing school work.
Now the beauty of balance shines when applied to the writing process. Science demonstrates that a balanced lifestyle reduces stress and reduced stress is perfect for beginning the writing process. I recommend brainstorming right away when receiving a writing assignment. Although you might have a ton of time until the due date you could potentially discover that you need that extra time for researching or editing. During the brainstorming process, I believe creating an outline is as necessary as drinking water every day. An outline will help organize and connect your ideas for the paper as well as reveal points that need more support. Once an outline is created, I add writing time into my daily schedule. I have found that writing for an hour or two a day is far more approachable than trying to write an entire essay in one sitting. This way you can avoid burning out at the end with sloppy writing and repeated ideas in the second half of the essay.
Lastly, I recommend including editing days in your timeline. Give yourself time to read over your essay carefully and even bring it to the Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing! Writing Assistants would love to look at your essay and help you in any way that we can!
Hope College, I challenge you to find balance in your daily routine. Get out those planners and calendars and begin to manage your time. We all want to do our best and through a balanced life, we can present truly beautiful products.
Just because the appointment is over, that does not mean that the job is done. There is more that happens behind the blue partition than reading papers. That’s right, I’m talking about the “session report.”
You may have noticed that we ask a lot of questions when you set up your appointment. Those questions aren’t because we are nosey. Instead, they help us with data analysis and doing an important part of our job: Session Reports.
When you come in for an appointment, you may have noticed the green sheet of paper that follows you back to the table. The front side has your answers to all of the questions we asked. The back side is usually used for notes that the Writing Assistant uses during the appointment. Don’t worry, the notes aren’t bad. They just help us remember what we worked on (we have a heavy loaded schedule just like you. We forget things sometimes).
After you leave your appointment, we fill out a google form. We input the information that you gave us into the google form and then we write up a quick 3-6 sentence summary about what happened during the appointment. After that, we hit send and the results from the form get turned into an email that gets sent to you and the professor. It’s especially handy for those professors that require you to come in. You have the appointment and the email gets automatically sent out!
If you don’t have a class the paper is for, don’t fret! No matter the type of paper you have, we always submit a session report. That way you can have the email reminding you of everything that we worked on during the appointment.
The nice thing for you is that we do all the work! You just get to come in, eat some candy, and focus on your paper. If you ask me, it sounds pretty sweet!
The start of a semester is full of new: new pencils, new schedules, and new classes. Maybe you’re a just-declared Psychology major with your first ever APA style lab report. Or you’re in a Spanish Literature course and realize you have to write an entire paper in Spanish! What are you going to do? Can the Writing Center help with specific writing style questions? Yes, we can!
The first step is to make an appointment. There are multiple ways to make an appointment but the easiest is to do so online. If you go to our Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing website page (https://hope.edu/offices/klooster-center/), you’ll see a box that says, ‘Make an Appointment.’ If you click on that, an appointment form will pop up asking you to fill in information like your name, what class the paper is for, and who your professor is. The most important part of the form, however, is the last part which says, ‘More Information.’ Here, we ask you to let us know about the nature of the paper and what you are looking for help with. This is also where you can say you want to work with a Writing Assistant on a specific citation style like APA or a language like Spanish. You can even request to work with a Writing Assistant who’s in the same major as you or someone you know that works there!
All the information you put down in the last part of the form is super helpful to the Writing Assistants scheduling appointments. That way, if they see a student needs help with a draft of a paper in French or Chicago style, they can try their best to pair them with a Writing Assistant who specializes in that area.
Does it always happen? No, if we’re being honest. I know I have gotten appointments for Biology lab reports and as a Psychology/English person I have to say, “I’m not a Bio major but we’re going to work together on this!” All of the Writing Assistants, no matter what their major, want to help the students who come in for appointments. If we don’t know something, say about MLA style, we have books or websites we’ll reference or even ask other Writing Assistants questions. We might ask you questions. We’ll probably ask you a bunch of questions. But even if the appointment ends and there is still something you can’t figure it out about the style of your paper, there are always websites, librarians, or professors to seek guidance from as well.
Writing is hard enough besides navigating rules that come with certain styles of writing. Even though writing in APA style or Spanish may be daunting for the first time, Writing Assistants at the Klooster Center want to help you learn those styles and gain new writing skills. I remember going to the Center for my first APA style paper because I wanted to make sure I did not miss anything. The Writing Assistant was helpful and caught things I forgot or missed in my paper. So, making an appointment about the style of your paper never hurts to have another pair of eyes look it over!
Usually referred to as simply “The Writing Center,” the mission of the David J. Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing is in the name: to help you become excellent writers. Students from all majors and years in school are welcome to take advantage of this on-campus resource. In fact, the staff here is made up of people from a wide range of majors and years in school. We are located in the Van Wylen Library, on the first floor, and are open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, and noon to 11 p.m. on Sunday. The Klooster Center is not open on Saturday (to let our Writing Assistants get their beauty sleep, of course).
All students are invited to make an appointment at any stage in the writing process. Are you confused by the prompt your prof gave to you? Do you hate dealing with citations? Wherever you are, the Writing Assistants at the Klooster Center are excited to help you!
We’re pretty open-minded here at the KCEW, and we pride ourselves on providing a judgment-free zone. Think you’re not good at writing? No worries! We all have different strengths to bring to the table!
Want some brownie points with your professor? Great! Profs love it when students visit the center because it shows you actually care about turning in good work. Plus, chances are the work you turn in after a visit at the center will probably be better than work that hasn’t been revised. Who doesn’t want to give a good impression on their profs and get better grades all in one step? A Writing Center appointment kills two birds with one stone!
If you’re still nervous about coming in to meet with us, here’s an outline of what you can expect when making an appointment:
First, go tohttps://hope.edu/offices/klooster-center/ and click the blue box that says “Meet with a Writing Assistant.” From there, you will be taken to a Google Form to let us know a little bit about you and your needs (i.e. your name, year in school, professor name, the class the assignment is for, assignment due date, etc). You will also have the opportunity to indicate the preferred day and time for your appointment. After you submit the form, you should receive a lightning-fast response from the center.
When the time of your appointment arrives, just approach the person at the desk in front of the blue partition screen. Tell them your name, and they’ll let your Writing Assistant know you’re there. You’ll be introduced and be on your way!
Although it might be scary to have someone else read your writing, we do our best to make it as comfortable as possible. A Writing center appointment really is painless, and many students have actually enjoyed coming in. Just ask the 2,000-plus students who made an appointment with us last year. We’re looking forward to working with you soon!
Quality writing doesn’t happen overnight. Literally! Essays that are written in a sleep-deprived haze the night before they’re due typically aren’t the papers that receive great scores. Why? Writing is a process. It’s a process that takes time.
Personally, I try to at least start brainstorming for an essay about a week before it’s due. This way, if I get stuck, I know I’ll have plenty of time to either 1) come up with some other great idea or 2) get some help. A week before the due date is also when I try to schedule an appointment at The Writing Center. Wait … what? I’m a Writing Assistant at the center. Yes, I still use it … even though I’m pretty confident in my writing skills. I pay tuition, so I pay for the Writing Center services. So … I’d be crazy not to use it!
Another thing that I find incredibly helpful when an assignment is making me anxious is putting in some serious planning time. Depending on how big the assignment is (or how “Type A” you are!), the plan/strategy can be as generic or as detailed as you want. I usually try to use the chunking method when I plan for completing assignments. I take out my planner (which is just a notebook) and pick a few days out of the week to sit and spend an hour or two focused on completing one assignment. This way, I force myself to sit and concentrate for enough time that I can actually get something done.
Here are some ideas for how you can make a plan:
Checklists: Draw a small square on the first line of a sheet of notepaper and, after it, write a small goal for yourself. I like taking baby steps. For example, after one box, I’ll write “gather research articles on topic,” followed by, “make outline,” and, “draft intro paragraph,” etc. Basically, whatever makes the most logical sense to you to get the job done. Plus, there’s the positive reinforcement that comes from being able to check off each box when you’re done with that step!
Online Organizing Sheets: Doing a quick Google search for “organizing templates” will get you quite far, surprisingly. Organization has become a new art form with all of the fancy planners and organizers out there. Rather than paying $50 for a fancy planner, you can find some pretty nice free printouts online! I really like the ones by Day Designer because they have space for checklists, plus they outline your entire day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In a way, it forces you to plan out your day to be the most productive!
Google Calendar: I use the Google Calendar on my Hope email to create events to remind me of important due dates for assignments. I like it because it sends notifications to my phone, and I have no excuse to not work on urgent things! You can set reminders for a day, days, or even a week in advance to keep you on top of your school work.
Planning out school work not only makes sure you turn things in on time, it also helps take away some of the pressure! Starting your plan well before the assignment is due will give you the best results, in my experience. Don’t be discouraged if your plan doesn’t go, well, quite as planned, though! Life happens and sometimes plans change. That’s okay! By starting your assignment with plenty of time to spare, you can usually adjust your plan around the hiccups and be just fine. Just don’t wait until the night before. (;
Here are three things that go through the minds of many college students when they’re asked to write a paper for a course:
One: “I’m not going to spend too much time on this paper, because that’s not going to help me get a good job when I graduate.”
Two: “Writing is important in English classes and in some of my gen-ed classes. But it’s not that important for my major, since I’m majoring in chemistry (or accounting or athletic training or the performing arts).”
Three: “Today, the world runs on web visuals, texting, e-mailing, and social media. When my professors assign formal papers and essays—well, that just seems so out of date.”
I’d wager that almost every college student has had at least one of these thoughts, at least once. Allowing such notions to pass through one’s mind is not an abnormal condition; these are not signs of immaturity or laziness. These three thoughts do share one small problem, however: they’re all false.
False thought 1: “Being a good writer isn’t going to help me in the job market.”
All the available evidence suggests that good writing is a key factor for success in the world of work. A recent article in Time Magazine points to a number of studies and additional evidence, suggesting that hiring and promotion are often dependent on the candidate’s writing skills. It quotes Grammarly CEO Brad Hoover, who wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review blog that “If you are a native English-speaker and never learned the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its,’ especially given access to Google, an employer might wonder: What else have you failed to learn that might be useful?” Hoover’s article makes reference to Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, who wrote in a blog post that he refuses to hire people who use poor grammar. He believes that “good grammar is a sign of professional credibility, attention to detail, and learning ability.” That post earned kudos from a Forbes Magazine contributor, who found this point particularly compelling:
In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have,” [Wiens] writes. “They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there and they’re.”
Another article on the Harvard site points out that in the world of business, evaluations of a person’s credibility depend significantly on that person’s writing ability. The author notes that “people jump to all kinds of conclusions about you when they read documents you have written. They decide, for instance, how smart, how creative, how well organized, how trustworthy, and how considerate you are.”
False thought 2: “Writing doesn’t really matter in my major, especially since I’m a science/business/kinesiology/art major.”
If you’re majoring in the sciences in order to avoid writing, you’ve made a pretty serious mistake—and you’ll know it as soon as you get back your first lab report. And almost every academic major—no matter how “hands-on” or “practical”—requires a substantial amount of writing. College is different from a trade school; there, you might be tested only on your technical know-how, but in college, you also need to be able to describe, explain, think about, and communicate about your technical abilities. These kinds of abilities, which are bolstered by good writing habits, help to explain why college graduates tend to have better jobs and more job choices over the long run.
The natural sciences provide a good example. Science depends on the ability of other people to understand, and when necessary to duplicate, the work of other scientists. Moreover, given the tremendous amount of scientific work being done (and written about), no one has time to read bad explanations; they will just skip over such work and go on to one of the other thousand or so accounts of the same kind of work, all of which are easily accessible via the internet.
All of these factors mean that, in order to get people to pay attention to your work (regardless of your field), you need to be able to express yourself with clarity and grace. An excellent article in Psychology Today demonstrates why good writing matters, even in science; it cites a number of passages of scientific writing, both good and bad, to show how much difference it makes.
As for business majors: item number 1, above, explains why businesspeople need to be able to write well—as does this next item:
False thought 3: “Today’s world runs on web visuals, texting, and e-mailing, so when my professors demand good writing, they’re just out of date.”
A professor at the University of Colorado noticed that her students’ attention to the web and to electronic communication had not only diminished their writing skills; it had also reduced their level of care about their writing and their level of interest in learning to write well. She found herself wondering how employers felt about hiring people who didn’t write well, or who didn’t care about how they wrote. So she penned a column in The Denver Post in which she came right out and asked employers whether this was true.
She received a great many direct responses that convinced her how much writing matters, right across the spectrum of jobs and fields. The responses aren’t on the newspaper’s comments page, but they are well described in an interview on Colorado Public Radio. The professor talks about the shift away from good writing over the last several decades, and then discusses the range of responses that she got from her column in the Post.
Employers not only told her that writing matters, but that they use a person’s writing in order to winnow down their large pools of applicants. She refers to letters that she received from mortgage companies, heavy equipment manufacturers, auditors, veterinarians, engineers, and many others. Only one letter said that technical skill was more important than writing ability in the hiring process—but even that letter indicated that, “if that person wants to rise in our company, and stay in our company, then writing will matter.”
How to think differently
Most universities and colleges have a wide range of resources that can help students become better writers. At Hope College, we continue to weave writing into all aspects of the educational experience—not only in general education classes, but in the majors as well. The Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing provides peer assistance to all students, of all ages, in all majors, and through all stages of the writing process. If you’re a Hope student, you’ll want to visit the Center early and often!
Conclusions are hard. Not impossible, of course, but hard. After spending hours pouring blood, sweat, and tears into your paper, you might be tempted to throw together a quick summary and slap it on the end of the essay. After all, didn’t you just spend eight whole pages explaining your topic? What’s left to be said?
Imagine, if only for a moment, being a professor. Your student hands you an eight-page paper titled “American Exceptionalism: A Political Analysis of the Greatest Nation on Earth.” Oh boy. Grimacing, you brace yourself for an onslaught of shallowly-researched über-patriotism. To your surprise, the student’s work is quite compelling. The thesis is unique and supported by several well-considered arguments, each in turn backed by a myriad of primary sources. This student’s paper impresses you, especially when you think back to his writing earlier in the semester.
Then, you get to the conclusion—or at least, you assume it to be the conclusion, since it is the last “paragraph” of the essay. This “conclusion” consists of two vague sentences, one of which essentially reads “And yup, that’s why America is the greatest country on Earth.”
Unfortunately, too many students fall into the trap of undermining their hard work with a vague or poorly-thought-out conclusion. What makes a conclusion “bad,” though? What should you avoid?
1: AVOID summarizing.
Despite what a thesaurus might say, conclusions are not synonymous with summaries. Summaries are repetitive and boring, but conclusions are thought-provoking. Try to concisely reiterate your main ideas, but don’t dwell on them—extend your ideas to the bigger picture and answer the question “so what?”
2: AVOID repeating your thesis or intro material verbatim.
While many successful conclusions briefly reiterate the main points of the paper or use similar language, it is always obvious when a student has copied and pasted his or her thesis from the introduction because it sounds repetitive. There is a fine line between using consistent language and key words throughout a paper, and simply copying. Try to find ways to reword your ideas, using varied vocabulary and sentence structures.
3: AVOID bringing up minor points.
In short, minor points are best left in the body of the essay. If the main point of your essay is that chocolate is the greatest invention ever because it tastes amazing, then talking about its country of origin, for example, might not be the best choice for your conclusion because it’s largely irrelevant to the “big picture” that you want to emphasize. Think about it this way: what do you want readers to take away from your paper? Bringing up minor points in the conclusion will only distract readers from your main ideas.
4: AVOID introducing new information.
Similarly to how minor points can distract readers from your main ideas, introducing last-minute information can confuse readers, leaving them wondering what your paper was really about. Not only can this confuse readers, but it can also give them the impression that you have poor organizational skills. A reader might wonder why you didn’t simply include the information further up in the bulk of your argument, rather than as an afterthought.
5: AVOID selling yourself short.
Conclusions often go beyond the original scope of the paper, thus tempting us to use language that suggests that we are not experts. Since you’ve just spent 5 pages acting like an expert on your topic, however, don’t undermine your hard work by ending your essay with a phrase like “I’m not an expert, but….” Your professor already knows that you are a student, not a professional. Similarly, try to avoid phrases like “I think” and “I feel,” especially in analytical papers. Again, your professor understands that everything in your paper is a product of your own ideas; even the information in objective papers has been filtered by what you view is important. Don’t weaken or hedge your arguments with language that is less than confident.
6: AVOID the phrases “in summary” and “in conclusion.”
As easy-to-use as they may be, phrases such as these come across as cliché. Your reader can see that he or she has reached the end of your paper because it is the last paragraph of the last page. Thus, beginning your conclusion with a phrase like “in conclusion” is a bit redundant.
Conclusions may seem like the hardest part of writing a paper, but they do not have to be. Have confidence in your knowledge and express it creatively. Look for unique ways to give your reader something to think about and, if need be, encourage him or her to act. Above all, don’t sell your conclusion short. Instead of thinking of your conclusion as a short summary tagged on to the end of your paper, try to view it as the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your reader. These are the final words that your reader will see—what will he or she remember?
For additional assistance with conclusions, check out our handout or make an appointment with the Klooster Center by going online, by calling (616) 395-7025, or by stopping by the reception desk. We’re on the first floor of Van Wylen Library.
More Complete photo attributions:
“Why Can’t I See Clearly,” by “auntjojo” [CC BY-ND 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/)] via Flickr
“Chocolate,” By André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
“STOP Sign,” by Bidgee (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons