Author Archives: Steve Aedy

How to Write a Last Minute Essay

college-writing

If you are among the many students who put off writing an important essay right up until the last minute, you’re not alone. Procrastination is the number one detriment to student success. Luckily, you can write an effective essay in very little time using the tips below.

Unplug

You have little time to get the essay from an idea on a paper to a fully typed document. Thus, not a single minute to spend updating your status or tweeting about how stressful the situation is. Hop off Facebook and turn off your cell. Time to dig in.

Pitch Your Idea to Yourself

Hopefully, you have a topic already. Now sell yourself on the essay and what’s included in it in order to form your introduction. Think of the main idea you want to convey in the essay, and then break that idea down into three to four good sentences that give the reader a prelude to what you’re writing about.

Come Up with a Thesis Statement

Thesis statement is arguably the most important element of your work. All the ideas will revolve around it. It has to answer to major questions. First – “What is this essay about?” and second “so what?”. Your thesis statement has to demonstrate your point and be debatable enough to devote the whole essay to it.

Prepare an Outline

Once you have the idea where your essay is going to go, set all the checkpoints your reader will have to pass. Point out the thesis statement, the most important arguments and a conclusion phrase. This way your mind won’t race and you’ll have a solid foundation of your work.

Look for the Sources Online

There’s no time to run to the library when you’re in a hurry, so online sources are the next best thing. Use your school’s library database if possible to find reputable reference literature such as journals and studies.

Template an Old Essay

If you have an essay that already has the proper line spacing, margins, and formatting, then use that document as a template for quick formatting and works cited page. Just make sure to fill in this form with brand new ideas of yours.

Start and Finish Strong

Pay special attention to the introduction and the conclusion. Even if what you write “in the middle” is less stellar, hooking the reader from the intro and giving them something to ponder in the conclusion is a good way to leave an overall good impression.

Create the Reference Page as You Go

If your essay requires a reference page or bibliography, add your sources as you go. This saves time when it comes to looking up information after you’ve already written the essay.

Use Wikipedia

While good old Wikipedia is not a trusted source itself, the footnotes there often provide great source material on your topic. Although you don’t have the time to double-check every fact you include into your work, just make sure you place the references where you originally intended. The good thing is that they may even turn out to be cited according to the style you need.

Proofread

Turning work in hastily can lead to errors. Give everything a quick once over before you submit your work to catch any typing errors or poor grammar beforehand. What’s even better, you can ask a friend to take a look at it. Your concentration may be totally ruined after that mind-squeezing writing session.

Once your essay is turned in, consider rethinking your work habits. Giving yourself plenty of time to finish your work ensures that you get the maximum credit and best grades possible.

How to Write a Narrative Essay

narrative-essay

The word “essay” elicits two very different kinds of reaction from college students. Some are thrilled by the prospect of getting to create a unique piece of writing. Others become apprehensive about failing to tell an engaging story and getting their grammar wrong. Writing any form of essay requires a certain amount of skill, but it is the determination that gets you across the line. When it comes to crafting a narrative essay, students are required to be descriptive and have an open mind full of appealing ideas.

As the name clearly suggests, the narrative essay is one where you have to tell a story instead of convincing the readers to agree with a point of view. Your task is to present your perspective on a personal experience and allow the readers to emotionally invest themselves in a story. Even though you are not required to create an argument, you still have to give your essay a purpose or a position. This means that the writing must have a clear thesis and a string of well organized ideas that form a meaningful narrative.


Create an Outline

The first step to writing a narrative essay is to build an outline that will enable you to organize your thoughts and funnel them into a concise story. You will have limited time and words in which to describe your tale, hence it is best to know in advance where you are going with your story.

When outlining your essay, be sure to come up with the main idea before focusing on any of the details. Build your story around this central idea by creating paragraphs that support your thesis in different ways. The purpose of each paragraph is to lead the reader back to the main theme of your story. For example, if you are writing a narrative essay on “An Embarrassing Experience”, you should use the first paragraph to introduce the event that caused you embarrassment and then describe the various reasons why the experience was embarrassing in the paragraphs that follow.

At the very end of your essay, you should write a concluding paragraph where you sum up your narrative and leave the reader with your final thoughts. It is very important for the conclusion to give the readers a sense of closure or resolution.

Be Selective with Your Vocabulary

To make your narrative essay stand out, you need to make your description as vivid as possible. In order to do this effectively, you must use the right words, terms and phrases. Keep the principles of organization (spatial order, chronological order and climactic order) in mind when describing individual events. The use of descriptive words and appropriate synonyms is absolutely essential to make your work attractive and impressive. Instead of giving the readers a bland and detailed account of a particular event, you should present a gripping narrative that grabs and retains the attention of the readers.

Leave out details that do not add to the excitement of the story. Avoid the use of words that sound too formal or academic. Using pretentious words that confuse the readers defeats the purpose of a narrative essay.

Revise and Improve Your Narrative

In writing, there is always room for improvement. Do not just proofread your essay. Look for ways in which you can sharpen the details, use stronger verbs and rearrange the phrases. Furthermore, do not change your story when revising because it creates plot holes and makes your writing look choppy.

Once you are done writing, read out loud to make sure that your sentence construction is smooth and fluid. You can ask a friend or a tutor to read your narrative and offer suggestions. Do not hand over the essay to your professor unless you are confident that it is your best effort.

What Professors Expect from Your Writing: Prepare for the Requirements

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You may not think of yourself as a writer, and you might be convinced you’re never the best writer in the class. News flash: you don’t have to be. The job description for “student writer” is pretty basic, once you distill it down to some key goals—and once you’re focused on just what a professor wants out of your writing.

Here are the basic tricks of the trade for successfully getting through the written work that most every academic degree requires.

Compliance

Let’s be clear: professors devise assignments around certain protocols and they do so for specific reasons. That makes it your job to follow the assignment instructions to the last, minute detail. Who knows why your professor restricts you to 1,007 words, or requires a bigger font than you normally type with. He or she demands green ink on lavender paper? Do it. Whatever is requested of you as a student writer, do it.

Read carefully – and understand thoroughly—what the assignment parameters are. Then, make sure your submission matches exactly what the professor asked for in terms of content, word count, formatting, and deadlines.

Knowing Your Reader

This is an easy one, since it’s usually singular situation: the only eyes likely to grace your essay are those of the professor, or maybe a peer or two along the way of the writing and revising process. In most cases, then, you’re faced with the “initiated audience,” where you share your writing with people who know the subject at hand. No need to start from ground zero or explain away too many basic points. Assume your reader is up to speed and write accordingly. That will result in a more streamlined approach, where your prose can get to the point and really dig into the meat of the chosen matter. Your professor will appreciate your awareness of his or her expertise, and revel in an advanced discussion.

Clarity

Think clearly, write clearly. The end result? You guessed it: clarity. I guarantee that this tops the list of what your professor wants in an essay or research paper.

A professor shouldn’t have to work too hard to understand a writer’s basic idea or argument, then to follow the series of ideas that explain or support it. The best way to really nail down your most coherent position or argument is to start with an idea and then throw questions at it: start with the ever-important “Why?” and work your way down to “So what?” Once you yourself have dealt with this vital interrogation, then it’s likely the prose will stand up to closer scrutiny from the prof. Remember, too, that it’s the writer’s job to work out a logical sequence of ideas ahead of putting pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard), then to constantly circle back to that main theme, keeping the entire essay anchored in the central, formative points.

Consistency

Everyone’s writing style is different, because a person’s writing method and the outcomes are aligned at least somewhat with his or her outlook on life, social conditioning, and personality quirks.

That said, an academic essay is not necessarily the place to revel in deeply personal insights. Tone down colloquialisms and biased rhetoric that can take a reader off course. And know that in your capacity as a student writer, you must strive to develop a consistency of style that speaks to who you are as well as to how you respond to and adapt to various assignments. A professor will enjoy editing and grading your written submissions when he or she senses your voice and your perspectives in play in the prose.

4 Steps to a Winning Admission Essay

A college admissions essay is perhaps one of the most important documents a person will ever write. Believe it. Admissions committees (typically made up of the very professors with whom you want to work) will absolutely read your submission—and then happily use your words for or against you in the selection process.

Any university professor will tell you that a search committee relies on the admissions essay for the insights it provides in helping to measure the “fit” of an applicant to a particular program. A smart search committee member evaluates the attributes of both candidate and school to estimate whether or not an applicant will succeed at the institution.

So with that in mind, how do you develop just the right tone and message for the essay? Consider what follows as a guide toward putting your best essay forward. Your academic success might depend on it.

Do Your Homework

Feed into the ego of the admissions committee members by noting their accomplishments, which obviously shape the reasons you want/need to study at that particular place. Make it clear that “thanks to Dr. Y’s recent published study on X,” there is no better place on the planet for you to come do your work and subsequently make your own brilliant contributions to the field—all filtered through their genius, of course. Are you getting me here? Don’t pander, and don’t wallow. But by all means, speak directly to and about the target school, acknowledging that behind every desirable academic program are instructors, researchers, and administrators making it shine.

Get Personal

Think of the admissions essay as a portrait of you (minus the fake smile and perfect hair) that reveals something about your personal truth. Heavy, I know, but a candidate must relate particulars about just why they want to attend a designated school—and you can do so by setting up some amount of a personal history. Are you the first of your family to go to college or pursue a graduate degree? Maybe your childhood was fraught with varying levels of pain related to financial realities, health problems, or other “issues” you’ve managed to overcome? Say so. Build your case—but don’t go crazy on this front. No need to pull the sympathy card, but if there lurks in your past a legitimate “shadow” which somehow fueled your desire to get into this school, then tell that story.

Build Up Your Story

Now, don’t simply accumulate a list of bullet points; instead, write prose that sequences from one idea to the next via logical transitions and vivid, descriptive wording. Try to offer the admissions committee readers a narrative flow, so that they come away with a sense of where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you plan to go. In other words, structure the essay on a sort of past-present-future platform, and always anchor your “plot” in how this school—how this program—is the only logical jumping-off point for your next phase.

Pay Attention to Details

Have two or three people (who have a grasp of the language) read your essay before you submit! It’s imperative to get feedback on content, readability, and even “mechanics” (errors in punctuation are more distracting than you might think). It’s critical that you pad the writing-editing-revising-submitting sequence with the time necessary to do all of the above.

As you craft the essay, always remember that a school cares about who it accepts; after all, a student’s academic trajectory should result in his or her entry into the professional arena, where that now former student will make a distinguished mark in the field. That mark will soon enough reflect positively back onto the school, the program, and yes—on the professors themselves, which bring us full circle: know your audience.

There it is. The road to a truly outstanding admission essay is not that long. The truth is, it does require diligence, creativity and perseverance. However, destination is worth it.

How to Write a Thesis Statement For Your Research Paper

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Writing a good, solid thesis statement is an important skill to learn.

The thesis statement serves many purposes:

  • It’s the springboard for the rest of your paper and the central point of your arguments. A well-formed thesis statement makes this process more fluid. A poor thesis statement makes it all the more difficult.
  • It helps your reader understand what they should get out of the paper.
  • It’s your elevator pitch, a way to persuade the reader to your side.

Here’s how to write a rock-solid thesis statement:

First Step

Write some drafts. Your thesis statement isn’t an immediate process. After doing enough research, you should be able to decide what side or point of view you’re taking on a topic. Write down a list of 5 practice thesis statements that are summaries of your opinion. For example, if your topic is “How does the Syrian refugee crisis affect Europe?” you can write down some thoughts based on your research:

  1. Some citizens in European countries complain of increased violence (Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve, Paris attacks, other individual cases).
  2. Some citizens are afraid of increased Muslim presence in their cities as they associate Muslims with terrorism.
  3. There are cultural conflicts and conflicts in values.
  4. It puts a strain on economic resources at a time when many countries are experiencing an economic crisis.
  5. There are many movements that encourage and welcome the refugees including some grassroots organizations to help clothe, feed and house them.

As you write these sentences, you may notice specific recurring themes or threads. Gather the best of these themes and write a practice thesis statement:
The Syrian refugee crisis has brought up a lot of fears and conflicts among European citizens.

Second Step

Test it to see if it holds up:
Once you’ve identified the basic theme you wish to argue, you’re now ready to edit your thesis statement.
A good thesis statement has the following qualities:

  • It’s specific. A thesis statement needs to address a specific topic. A sentence like “Since the beginning of time, refugees have had a hard time integrating with their new nations” is too general and doesn’t tell the reader enough about what you plan to discuss in your paper. If your statement is too general, narrow it down.
  • It’s polemic. A good thesis statement takes a strong stance. Don’t take the middle road and be neutral. Whether or not you have a strong opinion on the topic, you’ll need to pick a side in order to present your research. A statement like the one in step 1 “The Syrian refugee crisis has brought up a lot of fears and conflicts among European citizens.” is a good start but it doesn’t state an opinion. Try this instead:
    “The Syrian refugee crisis has had a negative impact on many European cities.” Someone could argue for or against this statement.
  • It’s supported by solid research. Maybe your personal opinion on this issue is that the Syrian refugee crisis has had a positive impact on Europe. But you haven’t been able to find enough evidence to support this viewpoint. In that case, your best bet is to go with the side where you can present the most convincing evidence, regardless of personal views.
  • It’s engaging. Does it make someone want to read further? Is it stated in such a way that intrigues someone and makes them want to find out more? If so, it’s a successful thesis statement.

An ideal thesis statement is one that interests the readers and takes a strong stand on a controversial question. Take time to rework and edit your thesis statement before delving into the rest of your essay as it will form the way you present your evidence. Good luck and happy writing!

7 Exercises to Improve Your Ability to Write Creatively

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Writers, in general, are a pretty creative bunch. But, since there’s no such thing as being too creative, anyone could benefit from some imagination-boosting exercises.

Whether you’re in a creative slump, and it happens to everyone now and then, or you just want to expand your resources as a writer, there are lots of ways for you to open up your creative channels.

Here are some methods to help inspire you:

1) Make a list of 20 topics

Sometimes your greatest creative block will be coming up with new ideas. So, sit down and make a list of 20 different writing ideas. Of this list of 20, at least one should be workable. Start developing it. A great habit for you to develop would be to keep a list somewhere of story ideas. If you do this, you’ll end up with an incredible cache of topics to use when your inspiration runs dry.

2) Re-write

Take an old story or idea you’ve written and rework it. Make sure it’s not something you’re currently working on. If you’re too close to it, you’ll have trouble seeing it from a new perspective. As you rework it, take a completely different view. If you told a story about a family from the perspective of one of the children, try telling it from the perspective of the mother or from an omniscient perspective. This is an exercise in creating flexibility in your writing. You may go back to the piece from the original perspective, but with new insights about the other characters. Sometimes telling the story you don’t want to tell can help you tell the story you do want to tell.

3) Read

Follow William Faulkner’s advice: “Read, read, read. Read everything- trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…” The more you read, the more you’ll be exposed to different writer’s voices and styles. You’ll get a sense for their mastery and their weaknesses. Don’t just read for pleasure. Read to examine different techniques such as transitions, character-building, suspense and dialogue. Then challenge yourself to use those techniques in your own work.

4) Try hand-writing

Martin Amis “I always do my draft in long hand because even the ink is part of the flow.” If you’re used to typing, take yourself out of your comfort zone. Buy a notebook and a pen or pencil and start writing in it. Hand-writing means you have to slow down your thoughts a little, as you can’t write as fast as you type. There’s also no erasing, so if you’re constantly self-editing by erasing your work, hand-writing may be a great way for you to tie up your inner editor and unleash your creative voice.

5) Use your pain

J.P. Donleavy “Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.” Everyone has had to face struggle in life. And struggle often makes for the best literature. Recount a moment or experience that was difficult for you. You could turn it into a poem, a story or an essay.

6) Free-write

Free-writing is all about release. If you need to unleash your creativity, try sitting down for 10-15 minutes and write without pausing, correcting or planning. Just write whatever comes to mind without any interruptions of the conscious mind. After you’re finished, go back and read what you wrote. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pick out an interesting concept or theme from your free-write and work it into a piece.

7) Switch genres

Creativity is the result of a flexible mind. If you write only essays or only short stories or only poetry, why not try something different? Choose another genre and see what comes up. It may feel strange and awkward, but by pushing yourself to do something different, you may discover a new source of creative thought. Try it.

Try one or all of these exercises to stimulate your mind’s creativity. It just may help you write better, more imaginative work. Good luck and happy writing!

Passive Voice Evasions and Writing Problems

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Even without meaning to, writers have a way of letting passive voice sneak into their sentences. It can be hard to avoid. It creeps up for several reasons. Sometimes it’s to avoid assigning blame. Other times it’s when we’re trying to avoid committing other grammar mistakes such as using “I” or “we”.

Passive voice is when a sentence starts with the object and not the subject of an action. For example, “Money must be saved for the trip.” Who should be saving the money? The subject is missing.

Good writing is active. Active sentences engage the reader with direct language. They’re also easier to understand: “Carla must save money for the trip.” There, now you understand who is saving money and why.

Here are some common passive voice evasions, how to fix them plus some other common writing errors to avoid:

Using passive voice to avoid using “I” or “we”

Instead of:
It is estimated that over 50% of families will be affected by the change.
Change to:
We estimate that over 50% of families will be affected by the change.

Instead of:
During the expedition, a discovery was made that could change our perception of history.
Change to: During the expedition, we made a discovery that could change our perception of history.

There are lots of other examples of passive voice that don’t include such obvious omissions. In fact, the majority of passive voice sentences have all the information needed, but continue to use passive voice.

For example

Instead of:
Gifts were given by the United Way to the children of the village.
Change to:
The United Way gave gifts to the children of the village.

Instead of:
A masterpiece was painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Change to:
Michelangelo painted a masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Instead of:
Instructions will be sent to you by the hiring manager.
Change to:
The hiring manager will send you instructions.

Instead of:
The ball was thrown to John by Simon.
Change to:
Simon threw the ball to John.

If you happen to be a passive voice fan, be aware that it’s not considered good English. Writers from William Strunk Jr., George Orwell and Stephen King, have warned writers to avoid it.

Some other common writing errors to watch for:

Subject-verb agreement

  • Within a sentence. Be sure that your verb is in agreement with the subject for your sentence. Check out this guide for the most common subject verb agreement pitfalls.
  • Within a paper. Stick with the same subject throughout the paper. Don’t suddenly switch from third (he, she, they) to second (you) or vice versa.

Cliches

Don’t use them. They can be an eyesore to the professor reading your paper. If you come across a cliché in your paper, go back and find another way to express the same idea. Check this comprehensive list of cliches to make sure your not using them.

Sentence fragments

Sentence fragments are when a group of words are a dependent clause acting as though they were an independent clause.
For example: Jim thought he had locked the door. But no.
The second sentence “But no” is a sentence fragment and not a full sentence.
Change to: Jim thought he had locked the door, but he hadn’t.

When you finish writing a paper, make editing a priority. A lot of common grammar and writing mistakes can be caught and corrected with careful editing. Good luck and happy writing!

Prewriting Techniques for Your Essay

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There are different prewriting techniques to help you structure your research before begin to write an essay. Prewriting techniques will make your topic clear and prevent you from getting stuck. Obviously, your professor is expecting to see a well-organized paper, which presents a story or a branch of interesting facts. Prewriting techniques and exercises will help you develop your argument and determine the course of draft.

Creating an outline

An outline will help you structure your essay in the way your audience can understand and follow it easily. You can make it informal: just put down your thesis statement, briefly describe what to begin with, in the introduction, move to the body of your paper and describe what every paragraph will discuss, and finally include what you want to say in the conclusion.
Sometimes professors ask their students to develop a detailed outline with headings and subheadings to show the bonds between facts and ideas in the essay. This one might look as follows:

Introduction

  • Attention grabber
  • Include an interesting fact or statistical data to grab your reader’s attention.

  • Brief background
  • Write a couple of sentences to describe the history of topic/issue.

  • Thesis statement
  • End it with a strong thesis statement which embodies the main argument of the paper.

Body paragraphs

  • Topic sentence
  • Every paragraph should contain a claim that shows what you are going to discuss in it.

  • Supporting argument
  • Explain the claim and don’t forget to support it with quotations from reliable sources.

  • Analysis
  • Explain how your argument supports the claim and essay’s thesis statement.

Conclusion

  • Restate your thesis statement.
  • Offer a solution for a problem if it is possible.
  • What are your ideas about the future analysis of the issue?
  • If your paper requires you to write about specific areas of the topic, include more detailed information about them in your body paragraphs.

Prewriting exercises

  • Question-asking

  • This exercise will help you to determine where to start with your writing. It requires you to write down a list of questions that are relevant to your topic. If something seems to be unclear about the topic, formulate legitimate questions and try to answer them when you begin to read background materials. This will help you clear up the air and get a lot of thoughts and ideas to start with. Also, think about the potential questions your audience may have and force yourself to find the answers. By means of these answers, you will get the general concept for your essay.

  • Brainstorming

  • Give yourself fifteen minutes and write down as many ideas and questions about the topic as you can. For example: What is the most interesting thing about this topic? What can my audience and I learn from this? What are the benefits of learning more about it? Most often these ideas are the main points of the topic.

  • Mindmapping

  • Take a piece of paper and a draw a circle in the center of it and write the subject of your essay in that circle. Below write down the main points you are going to discuss and circle each of them, too. Think of other ideas relevant to the main points, write them down below and connect them with lines. Repeat this process until you run out of ideas. This will help you identify the main points for your paper and discover how they are linked to each other.

  • Freewriting

  • Start with summarizing your topic in one sentence. Then write everything that comes to your mind about without censoring your ideas. Forget about grammar and punctuation, just let your ideas flow. Don’t pressure yourself to make it perfect and just don’t stop writing. If you give it a chance, it might work as a powerful creative tool and take your ideas somewhere extremely productive and unexpected.

Outlining and other prewriting exercises will help you to keep focused on every aspect of your research. It becomes particularly effective at times when you need to go back and clarify all important points not to miss something. Use these planning tips and you will never get lost in your drafting and writing!

How to Use Quotes in a Literary Analysis Essay?

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Quotes in literary essays serve as textual evidence used to strengthen your interpretation of the text. When inserted correctly, quotes support your arguments and bring the necessary background to your writing. However, when used incorrectly, quotations can only bring mess in your essay and ruin your arguments. This guide will help you understand how to quote effectively.

When to use quotes

Your tutor has probably told you to back-up your thesis statement with arguments. However, randomly used quotes will hardly strengthen your idea. You should use quotes at selected moments because the major part of your essay should be your own thoughts (it is your essay, isn’t it?). Here are some conditions using quotes:
When you want to include particularly important words from an authoritative source to highlight the credibility of your argument.

  • When you need to include information that is not generally known.
  • When you want to include a passage that is worthy of analysis.
  • When you want to analyze and evaluate a someone’s work.

The third point is especially useful in literary analysis essay.
If you find an argument which is relevant to your topic, but it is not one of those four cases described above, consider:

  • Summarizing: sketch only the key point in the passage;
  • Paraphrasing: convey the information from the passage in your own words.

Depending on what type of paper you are writing, you can also use other types of evidence like statics, paraphrasing, or data. As distinct from the literary essay, scientific writing relies on summarizing more than direct quotes. Obviously, you should consider the discipline and audience for which you are writing. For instance, literary essay or analysis should include direct quotes from the original text you are analyzing while Sociology or Political Science papers may rely on statistics and paraphrasing.

How to incorporate quotes into text

Once you have decided which quotes you need to use, your next step is to incorporate them into your essay. Remember, the words and explanations which you include before and after a quote are as important as the quote itself. Imagine that your quotation is the filling in a pizza: it is tasty, but nobody is going to eat it without a pizza dough. Your comments are going to serve as a “dough”, a necessary part of each pizza. Here are some instructions for inserting and following up quotations:

  • Attribute a quote to the source

Don’t forget to specify who is speaking.

  • Provide context

The quotation does not tell a story on its own. Therefore, you have to provide a clear context that sets when, why or under what circumstances the quote was written.

  • Introduce a quotation

To introduce a quote, explain what it is intended to show.

How to format quotations in MLA style

As a rule, the literary essay or analysis is written in the MLA format. Use these guidelines and examples to format your MLA-quotes correctly.

Short Quotes

Short quotes (no more than four lines of prose text and three lines of poetic text) should be enclosed within quotation marks. Include the author’s name and the page number (for poetry — provide the line numbers).

Long Quotes

If your quote consists of more than four lines of prose or poetry, you have to indent it from the main text, but do not center it. Indenting will show that the text is a quote, so you don’t need to put quotation marks.

Examples

For both short and long quotes, use the following punctuation and formatting:

  • People are described by Kenneth Burke as “symbol-using animals” (3).
  • People are described as “symbol-using animals” (Burke 3).
  • Some describe people as “symbol-using animals” (Burke 3), but the others disagree.

For poetry, use the original formatting and put poetry line numbers:

She spired into a yellow flame,
She flowered in blossoms red,
She flowed into a foaming wave,
She stood Monadnock’s head. (120-124)

Formatting may influence your grade, so use these tips to make sure that you format your quotations correctly!

Writing in English as a Second Language: Tips for Students

writing in English as a second language

As Columbia University Professor William Zissner observed, what’s valued as “good writing” in one language can be vastly different in another language. An ESL student of his from Egypt observed that Arabic writing uses a lot of proverbs, something an English writer can’t do if they want to be taken seriously. Students from Ethiopia were used to writing long, flowing, complex sentences that demonstrated their education and knowledge. The Spanish language with it’s wealth of Latin-based words is a gold mine for poets and writers as it’s naturally expressive. But what’s considered good writing in English is something quite different.

Here are some tips for ESL students who want to write well in English:

Read a lot to improve your writing

Read newspapers, magazines and books. You’ll find answers to subject-verb agreement questions, plurals, adjectives and past tense and past participle conjugation. You’ll learn spelling, vocabulary and idiomatic phrases as well as basic sentence structure. Reading will help reinforce grammar rules you know and teach you ones you didn’t. Also take advantage of blogs for ESL students.

English speakers value clarity

The English language has over a million words. It’s a language that’s full of nuance. For example, look at the subtle difference between the words yell, shout, scream. You wouldn’t necessarily use them in the same context. You could scream from fright, but not yell or shout from it. When there’s a disagreement, depending on the nature of it, you might call it a dispute, argument, debate, quarrel or fight. Exposure to these words via conversations, music, films and books will help you understand which word you can use and when.

Brevity

Modern English is not what linguists would call a “flowery” language. Its most celebrated writers tend to be the ones who write short, punchy sentences. There’s a very popular app for writers called the Hemingway app that evaluates your text for sentences that are too long, too complex or confusing. It has a special function to detect adverbs. Why is there an app called Hemingway instead of Poe or Faulkner? Because Hemingway was the quintessential “lean” writer and that quality of expressing a lot in few words is highly valued in English.

Action verbs

Some languages form sentences that are like mazes. They talk around a subject because being direct is considered rude. In English, being direct is appreciated. Those who can “get to the point” are praised instead of sidelined. The language itself reflects this with its use of action verbs. Don’t put things in the passive tense. Say it straight. For example: “I threw the ball to Jack” is much easier to understand than “The ball was thrown to Jack by me.” Action verbs are an ESL writer’s faithful ally. Fuzzy on what’s an active verb and what’s a passive verb? Check out this site to learn more.

Don’t overuse Latin-based words

If your first language happens to be a Latin-based one, your tendency will be to make good friends with the Latin-based words in English. And there are many. Depending on which reference you use, anywhere from 40-60% of English words are derived from Latin. Relying on your Latin roots will certainly make it easier for you to express yourself, but will also make your English unbearably formal. Students in American high schools who study Latin generally do so in order to score better on the SATs.

However, if you look at the way English is spoken on the streets, on television, in films or the way it’s sung in music or written in magazines or books, you’ll see that English’s Anglo-Saxon roots are put to use far more often than its Latin ones. So don’t rely on your easy Latin affiliates, and make the effort to delve into the world of Anglo-Saxon based English.

Don’t translate from your native language into English

This is hard for anyone trying to speak a second language. But try thinking in English rather than translating your thoughts from your native language into English. The difference is vast. Thinking in English means you’re also becoming familiar with the logic of the English language, its grammar, nuances and idiomatic phrases.

Trying to translate from your native language into English is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The grammar will be awkward and hard to understand and you won’t be able to capture the meaning of what you’re saying. That’s because English is another another with different forms of expression. Learning them will help you communicate what you mean.

English spelling can be frustrating

A seemingly unending stream of vowel combinations (beauty) and consonant combinations (thought) and some words that are spelled the same but mean different things (the noun tear vs. the verb tear). Check out this spelling guide to help you gain more confidence in your writing.

Write a lot

Taking the above into consideration, it’s time for you to practice writing in English. To improve your English writing, you should write every day. But it’s not enough for you to write every day. Someone needs to be able to tell you when you’re making a mistake…

Get help of an English native speaker

Today, the Internet is a huge resource for ESL learners. Whatever your native language is, you can bet there’s a native English speaker who wants to learn it. While a lot of these language exchanges focus more on speaking, you can certainly request to use the chat function as a way to practice your writing. Ask them to correct your spelling and grammar and offer you tips and explanations.

It’s not the same as having a teacher who has more grammatical knowledge, but your average layperson should be able to spot basic spelling and grammar mistakes for you. Visit these language exchange sites to partner up with a language learning buddy and improve your English writing.

The best way to learn to write well in English is to read a lot and write a lot. Make sure a native speaker corrects your work and practice as often as you can to get better.