Author: Ruth Shillair

Finals Are Coming: Take a Minute to Relax!

End of the semester writing projects are coming!!!
Quick, write like crazy, write all through the night, just get it done!


A MUCH better way is to start now (if you haven’t already) and get a good first draft done.  Then, as you are writing, do something to relax.  I love to use some aromatic candles to create a relaxing atmosphere to get those ideas going. Green tea is also nice to sip on as you are thinking about how you are going to tackle your final papers.

lit candles and aromatic spices

Sometimes it is good to take a little walk outside.  Even though it has been a long and cold winter, spring is finally here and a few flowers are starting to pop out.


Take a walk through the Beal Botanical gardens over near the library and see if you can catch any of the early flowers peeking up. You can click on the picture to learn more about this historic place.

Beal Botanical Garden

Another great way to relax is participate in a quick jog around campus or look for a pick up game of basketball.  Exercise helps clear your mind as you breathe deeply and take in the fresh air.  Did you know that MSU has special jogging routes?  There are spots to stop and stretch as well as some great scenic strolls along the riverbanks. Just click on the picture below for more information.

Campus Jogging Route

The next step is to make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback.  Don’t wait till the last minute only to find that there are no open spots.  No matter how good you think that paper may be, it can improve through getting thoughtful feedback and going through revisions. The best way to relax is to know that you have things under control. Stop to see us at the Writing Center soon!

Happy College Student with organized writing

Summer Internship and Job Applications

The snow is blowing across the sidewalk, the windchill is in the negative numbers, you lean in to the wind and try not to slip on the ice as you walk to class.

Summer seems like a pleasant dream, but a million miles away.

BUT deadlines for applying to summer internships and jobs are fast approaching!

One of the important advantages of going to a university with the influence level of Michigan State is the connections to employers and opportunities for internships.  Often an internship will determine if you have a lucrative job offer waiting for you when you graduate or not.

As you know, that competition for many jobs is pretty fierce.  A key to getting that interview is having an excellent resume. There is a lot more to resume writing than just making sure there are no grammar errors.  Does your resume really communicate your skills and experience?  Does it have a good flow? Does it use layout, font, and content to communicate who you are in a professional manner?

To produce a good resume is quite a skill.  Usually it will take several major revisions to capture the full picture of someone’s skills and experience.  Don’t wait till the last minute and risk missing out on your dream job.

There is still time to get that resume ready. Make an appointment at the Writing Center today!!

Also, the MSU Career Network has produced a great guide to help you prepare for the job hunt. There are helpful questions to ask employers, great suggestions on what to do, and what not to do.

Click here to get the Career Fair Quick guide

Hope to see you around soon!

Getting Inspired For Writing

National Novel Writing Month

Ever think about writing a novel?
Ever think about writing a whole novel in JUST A MONTH?
Ever think that it would be utterly crazy and wild?
Ever think it help to have tools to keep you on track and a community to give you support and cheer you on?

Yes, yes, yes, yes

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing month is coming up soon!!

You can sign up for free and access many tools that will help spur you on in your writing.

You don’t have to finish writing a whole novel, but it will help you get started on accomplishing that secret dream.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month.  Small groups form to help support each other. You can find out about local events and become part of a global movement.  Hundreds of thousands of people join each year for this fun and inspiring event. Last year there were over 668,000 people around the world!

Just go to for more information

The pep talks alone make it entirely worth signing up!

If you don’t really want to write a novel,

To get EVERYONE started in writing the Writing Center @ MSU is having a Write-a-thon on October 18th.  It is a great time where you join a small group of fellow community members and spend a few minutes getting inspired and then time just writing.  The groups walk to several different locations and let the surroundings add to the enriching experience.  Don’t miss this chance to write with like-minded people, to feel connected to a larger community, and to get that much needed boost in your writing.


This year’s theme is hunger. It is a broad topic that can link to whatever you want. OF COURSE, you can write about anything, but it is surprising the fresh ideas you will get from the facilitators and surroundings.

The write-a-thon starts in the main writing center (Room 300 in Bessey Hall) at 1:00pm and goes until about 4:00pm.  You can leave whenever you want, so come and join us for as long as you can.

For more information go to the Writing Center’s Write-a-thon page. We hope to see you there!

Why It Helps to Work Collaboratively on Writing

Have you ever written something and gone over it CAREFULLY several times, print it out, start to hand it in and see a typo IN THE FIRST SENTENCE?

Yeah, me too.

Why is it so hard to proofread our own work, and even more importantly why is it so hard to not catch obvious gaps in logic, structure, organization, or flow? Well, our brains are very good at delegating less important stuff (details) and filling in the blanks as we try to process the more important stuff (main points). Our eyes and our brain adapt quickly and can trick us.

four circles with missing parts form an illusion of a square that isn't there
The Kaniza Square

This is why it helps when we are trying to compose material to communicate a message.  We may think our ideas are complete, but it helps to talk to someone else and see if we really communicating our ideas effectively.

This is where the Writing Center can help YOU!  We are not editors, we don’t  just “proofread” your paper to “fix it”– we DO talk with you, listen to you, and read your material with you to make sure that you are communicating what YOU want to say in a way that others can understand.  We can give you strategies to help you improve YOUR writing  process.

Watch this site for postings this semester in this blog about the writing process.  I hope we can offer you some helpful strategies.

Meanwhile, start the semester off right by coming in to the writing center (or the branch near you), get to know some of the staff, and make an appointment to go over your overall strategy for writing.

Tip #1

Assemble all of your syllabi for the semester- check to see what classes will require papers or projects.  Write the deadlines on a calendar and work backwards.
Allow time for-
1) Brainstorming ideas
2) Collecting resources – read about the topic as written by respected experts
3) Organizing ideas –  outline or draw charts to check idea flow
4) First draft
5) Writing refined version
6) Revision and proofreading
7) Revising it some more
8) Putting it aside – re-read some of your sources
9) Re-reading what you have written
10) Making the final copy

We are here for you EACH step of the way. Make an appointment today.
If you want to read more about why we don’t see our own mistakes-

Why we can’t catch our own typos

Writing For Your Audience: IDK SUP BRO

Muppet Most Wanted Commercial Screen Shot

Muppets SuperBowl Commercial

Who is the audience for this commercial?
Would there be some people who don’t understand?
What makes it funny?
What could make it confusing?

Your audience is one of the most important things to remember whenever you write.  Audience determines the tone, person, language use, and the type of authority you use. The point of view can be first person, second person, or third person.  First person uses terms like: me, I, and we.  Second person utilizes: you and yours.  Third person uses words like: he, she, researchers, and they.

Is your assignment a reflection? Then it should be personal, first person. You may bring in other sources if you want to support your argument, but it is your voice speaking.

Is your assignment a research paper? Then it should be objective, mostly third person. Use valid sources and cite correctly.

Is your assignment to write an posting for a blog? Now you can talk to the audience like they are in the room.  Second person works nicely and your tone can be like you are talking to a friend.

Is your assignment multimedia? Again, think of your audience.  Even though you can add elements of visual images and sound it should be appropriate for the situation and convey the message that you want to convey. The images and sound should add to the message and not overwhelm it.

Even when you text or post on Facebook you are sending a message to your audience.  If they are close friends and know what you mean, have fun and txt away to c sup.

BUT if you are writing an assignment, remember to use language your audience understands.

If you aren’t sure about your message connecting with your audience, PLEASE come to the writing center.  We LOVE being your audience and listening to what you have to say.  You can share what you have so far- even if it is just the assignment- and we can talk about how to communicate effectively with your audience.

The Facts About Plagiarism

A section cut out of Wikipedia titled "Plagiarism"
From Boston University

Imagine the following scene-

You get an email from your professor.  He has found that you “were guilty of plagiarism” and therefore receiving a “0” for the course.  Furthermore, this goes in your academic record.  You might lose scholarships, not qualify for student loans, your life will change… and not for the better.  All just because you put off writing that paper until the last minute and slapped it together without checking the citations or watching your quotes.

Some forms of plagiarism are obvious-

DON’T CUT AND PASTE into your papers, especially from Wikipedia! Think about it, if you can use Google so can your professor.  Also, it shows you didn’t even research a decent source…really…. You can do better!

Also, many instructors may use software to check for plagiarism.  Taking a phrase or section and changing a couple words is NOT paraphrasing, that is still considered plagiarism.

If you are writing a complex paper and you want to put in sources and paraphrase them later, go ahead and do it, but make sure you make it very clear to yourself what you have copied so you will remember to rephrase it.  One way you can do this is to highlight the section in a bright color and then when the section is correctly paraphrased and cited take the highlighting away.

The best way is to read your source material and close the book or minimize the screen, think about it and write about it entirely in your own words.  The process of really thinking or synthesizing the thoughts in a paper is where YOU really learn – and learning is what you are here to do, right?

If a source says something  amazingly well go ahead and quote it, just make sure that there are quotes at the beginning and the end of the words you are using and there is a citation.

You should cite everything in your paper that is not –

 1) Your own experience

Example: Gusts of wind almost blew my hat off as I walked the narrow sidewalk spanning the London Bridge.

 2) General knowledge

Example: The winters in Michigan are generally colder than in Kentucky.

3) Your analysis or opinion

Example: The colors in the background of the poster made it hard to read the text.

In many ways, writing is the ultimate function of the learning process.  It is where you personalize and internalize what you have either heard or read.  It is where you develop a voice, where you can show what you have learned, where you can shine.

Sometimes students worry that their grammar isn’t good enough, or they don’t have the vocabulary to express what they want to say—that is where the Writing Center can help.  We can talk about what you want to communicate and look at your organization, structure, word choice, and finally even talk about grammar.

To see MSU’s resources on plagiarism see

Striking Structure

Have you ever heard someone talk about the structure of a story or an essay?  The structure is the elements that the writer uses to build it together into something that holds the writing together so that it makes sense and holds together. Did you ever think about how the structure of a story is a lot like the structure of a house?  Houses have foundations, walls, windows, rooms, and a purpose or function for each part.

If all the pieces are put up well, the house will last a long time and be able to weather the storms of life. If things are just slapped together and not lined up well then it will collapse under a strong breeze. In a story we have the organization as a structure that holds everything together.  The structure can be very formal or traditional, but it can also be very non-traditional, and even surprising. Structure can seem rather vague, so it might help to think of it in concrete terms. As you look at your writing, ask yourself –what is the organization, the plot, the characters—everything that works together to make the story or paper effective. The mental images created by your writing can be just as real and as powerful as a physical work of art.

That is why your structure is so important in building a complete unit. To really illustrate the power of taking the mental images and transforming them into physical entities a class in England’s Columbia University has a program called “The Laboratory of Literary Architecture.” In this program students take their favorite stories and physically build a structure to represent how they view it.  The creations are made with everything from toothpicks to concrete and some really surprising, yet accurate structures result.

The Falls by George Saunders-wooden structure with sloping roof and center of exploding pieces of wood

Javier Fuentes interprets The Falls by George Saunders: The paranoia experienced by the narrator of Saunders’s open-ended short story is reimagined by Javier Fuentes in a structure designed to encourage a heightened sense of spatial awareness. The base is punctured in the same way that the climactic events towards the end of The Falls bring an abrupt end to Saunders’s stream-of-consciousness narrative, leaving the reader in a state of suspense. Photograph: Tony Cenicola/Eyevin” (Pericoli, 2013)

The leader of the workshop, Matteo Pericoli, has a web site that gives great details about the workshop and the results of what happens when students think deeply about the structure of a story and how it would translate to a physical entity. Continue reading “Striking Structure”

Internships, Resumés, and Jobs…why you need to visit The Writing Center


This is the season for submitting applications and resumés, trying to get that dream internship, or even starting the process of getting a job. As you probably know, the market for good jobs, as well as the best internships, is very competitive.

The key to all of your future is often just a few little pieces of paper: the resumé and the cover letter.  These are very brief documents, but they have to pack in a lot of information.  A well-written resumé can help feature YOU in such a way that others can quickly see if you are the person that they want to choose.

table of upcoming Career Gallery There are some steps you can take to improve your future and it includes a visit to The Writing Center.  But before you make your appointment, first take a look at some of the extensive help available to MSU students – go to and you can see the wealth of resources available.  Here are a few steps that can help you get the best resumé possible.

1) Know all about the different types of resumé and what kind you should be writing.  There are workshops for your college sponsored by, just click on Events and you will see the Workshops.  These are tailored for your field and can give you specific information to help you succeed. Here is a handy place to learn about all different kinds of resumés.

2) Make an appointment at The Writing Center.  Any location of The Writing Center can help you, but at the BCC we do lots of resumés, cover letters, and personal statements. We take time to listen to your story to make sure that you are clearly communicating your skills. If you don’t know where the BCC is, click here for a handy video and information about this location.

3) Make an appointment with Career Services in your school.  Some of the departments, such as the Lear Center for Business majors, have drop off resumé checking.  After you have followed the guidelines, have gotten input from a second person (via The Writing Center), it is great to have one last check to make sure everything is as neat and ready to submit.

Resumés and cover letters are important, but they don’t need to be frightening.  We are here to help you! You can come in at any stage of the writing process, even if you don’t know where to start and just want to brainstorm…make an appointment today and get started. Many opportunities are coming soon, so be sure to make an appointment today.

Plagiarism or Paraphrasing, that is the Question

picture of text with words "cut & paster" "no big deal" highlighted
From “Plagiarism and the Internet” Click to see article

It is almost the end of the semester and the huge research paper is due.  It takes so much time to paraphrase and cite your sources.  It seems so easy to just copy sections of the article and change a word or two here and there.  You are not sure about the citations; you just get the paper done.  So you copy and paste. Big mistake.

Did you know that copying phrases and sections without giving credit is plagiarism?  Even if you change a word or two, it is still plagiarism.

If you use words from another source, make sure you set off the words with quotation marks and use the correct citation method.  Even if you paraphrase—rewrite something into totally your own words –you still need to give credit to where you got the information.

If you are caught plagiarizing on a paper it is not only a “0” on the paper, it can be a “0” for a class, or even being expelled from Michigan State.  It is not worth the risk.

Perhaps you got away with it before, but now many instructors are using Turnitin or other tools to check for plagiarism.  These tools check against millions of documents to test for similar phrases and alert the instructor.  Remember, if you could search for the information others can find it also!

Also, if you are a graduate student, faculty or staff you can use the service iAuthenticate that works much like Turnitin, only this service is to help check your writing before it is submitted to make sure that you haven’t accidentally overlooked a citation.  It doesn’t hurt to check your research, grant applications, or other writing you are preparing for publications to make sure there are no problems.  This is currently a pilot service, so your usage actually helps MSU evaluate this program. Check it out at iAuthenticate

clip of paper with the word education highlighted

At The Writing Center @ MSU we can help you avoid plagiarism.  We can help you work on paraphrasing, learn how to cite correctly, and discuss strategies to improve your writing.

Make an appointment soon– at Bessey, any of our satellites, or online using Twiddla!

Dashes, and Commas, and Parenthesis, Oh My!

still image from the original Wizard of Oz, from left, The Tin Man, Dorothy, and Scarecrow

Are you afraid of dashes, commas and parenthesis? Well, you don’t need to be afraid any longer.  I won’t go through all the uses for each symbol, but we will look at using them to set off information within a sentence. Many times they are used in similar ways, but they indicate stronger or weaker emphasis.  There are always rules, and of course times when we break the rules, but here are some very generalized guidelines.

You can think of the dash like the roar of a lion, it shows that something has a high level of contrast and the dash is used to bring attention to the words set apart by the dashes.  It can show a level of surprise or strong emphasis. Such as, “The young boy—with arms as thin as sticks –hoisted the massive weight above his head.” The contrast of the thin arms shows the surprise in being able to lift the heavy weight.

The commas are a little subtler, you can think of them like a tiger weaving through the underbrush of the jungle. They can be very powerful, but they pause and wait, ready to pounce with more information.  Something like, “The young boy, who had been secretly training at the gym for months, hoisted the massive weight above his head.”  Here the information within the commas offers more information about the young boy and why he could lift the weights.

Parenthesis can also be powerful, but they are more like the bear walking peacefully through the forest.  They can pack powerful information, but generally are quieter, while still offering more information. We could say, “The young boy (stronger than he looked) hoisted the massive weight above his head”

A few of the “rule breakers”-

If we are already using parenthesis for references in a sentence and the information you want to set off within a sentence would be normally set off with parenthesis, then you might want to consider using commas or the dash so your reader won’t be confused.

If you are already using a lot of commas in a sentence, you might want to consider using the dash or parenthesis instead of more commas.

Well, I hope this helps give a little insight on when to use the lions, tigers and bears of the punctuation world.  Remember, we would love to help talk about those scary punctuation marks with you at the Writing Center!  Make an appointment today–

If you would like to read more about this topic, check out Grammar Girl’s entry at —Grammar Girl