All posts by Ben Strauss

The Writing Process

I know what you’re thinking; you’re wondering what is a writing process and why I am writing about it? A writing process is whatever sequence of events you follow from start to finish when you write something. It’s important to become aware of your own writing process because it can allow you to become a more productive writer.

Now that you know what a writing process is, I want to give you some advice based on my own writing process. I hope I can explain what a writing process can look like and how some introspection about yourself might reveal important information about your owm process.

My writing process: I like to think about what I am going to write and then furiously write everything I can think of down without thought to whether my ideas connect or if there are grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Then I go through what I have and clean it up grammatically and organize my thoughts into paragraphs or sections; then I brainstorm about each section I have created and add content mostly in the same way as I described before. Rinse and repeat!

I like my writing process because I am a visual learner; after I have word vomited my thoughts onto a page, I am able to visually see everything that I had on my mind, which makes it really simple for me to SEE how everything fits together. In turn, this allows me to keep focus and structure what I’m writing the way I want it to be and “fit the puzzle pieces together.” Continue reading

E-mail Etiquette Tips

Looking back, I could never have anticipated how many emails I would write and receive in college. As we’re all aware, e-mail has become an essential part of every college student’s academic life. However, proper email etiquette is something that can be hard to pick up and isn’t always clear.

It was difficult for me to figure out how to properly send e-mails and word them in such a way that I did not feel like a crazy person. I’d like to share some of my tips with you in the hopes that you don’t feel like a crazy person too. Here’s a helpful list of e-mail etiquette guidelines that I have developed over my four years here at MSU.  I hope you find it useful!

  • You should be concise and to the point. This starts with a clear subject line that is straight to the point.
  • If you are sending an e-mail about a class, always make sure to include your full name, class number, and section. Ideally you should include the class number and section in your subject line. This will let your professor immediately know who you are, which can help the conversation flow naturally.
  • Recognize when e-mail might not be the appropriate medium for your conversation. In the same way that you might not want to break up with someone over the phone, there are some things that aren’t appropriate to talk about over e-mail. If this occurs, either scheduling a phone call or a meeting in real life are good solutions.
  • Be sure to pay attention to your tone; make sure you are using a tone that is appropriate for your audience and situation. This can be a tricky thing to determine, especially if you are e-mailing someone for the first time. If you aren’t sure what type of tone to use, assuming a professional tone is a good idea.
  • Do your best to be punctual with your replies. Treat an e-mail like you would a missed telephone call.
  • Keep your audience in mind. For email that means you might need to send an e-mail or a reply to multiple people, cc people, etc. Nothing is worse than sending e-mails to the wrong person and not sending them to the right person.
  • Mention what attachments you have attached and what file format they are. Make sure that the file format you choose is appropriate. For example, PDF is really good for several types of documents because it is almost universally compatible. Also, digital pictures are generally very big files that are too big to be attachments. If this occurs, you can put them on imgur.com (or a similar site) and provide the URL in your e-mail.
  • Also, don’t do this.

Writing Resource: Fallacy Files

Our new writing resource for this installment is The Taxonomy of Fallacies located at fallacyfiles.org. Let’s jump right in!

For starters, what are fallacies? Simply put, fallacies are arguments with poor reasoning that are often misleading and unsound, logically. Fallacies are incredibly important to avoid when making an argument because they can hurt credibility and jeopardize the reliability of entire ideas. Even a tiny bit of fallacious reasoning within an otherwise sound, well-supported argument can compromise the validity of the whole thing.

Bad news.

Therefore, it is easy to see how important it is to be able to identify and avoid committing a fallacy.

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The Taxonomy of Fallacies is an incredibly useful resource for learning about fallacies. However, to unlock its full potential, it must be used correctly. This is not a resource that one can use to diagnose whether an argument is fallacious or not and it does not immediately provide clear answers. However, you should find it helpful when used in one of the following ways:

  • Simply read it! Browsing through it and looking at the examples can be a very easy way to quickly learn about each fallacy. Also, if you’re still having troubling understanding exactly what something means after reading what is provided, try clicking on another point that is connected to it in the giant web; this can provide contextual information that might clear everything up.
  • You can use this resource sort of like you would a dictionary, referencing it whenever you run across a word (or in this case, a logical fallacy) that you’ve never encountered before.

The sheer amount of information can be intimidating at first, but knowing all of this it you should find it to be a very useful tool.

Of course, if you want to talk more in-depth about fallacies and argument structure, you can come see us at The Writing Center @ MSU!

Writing Resource: Nika Harper’s Wordplay

Nika Harper does vlogs on the Geek and Sundry Youtube channel. Her vlog series is titled “Wordplay” and its topic is creative writing. You might be wondering how creative writing videos might help you become a better writer, right? Well keep reading!

Creative writing can be important in an academic setting because you’re not always going to be writing boring 5 paragraph essays or lengthy research papers. Anyone who has written a literacy narrative knows what I’m talking about, and personal statements to an extent. Essentially any situation in which one must tell a story, it’s creative writing that gets this done. Creative writing can hone skills that are essential to becoming an effective writer in any context or genre, like writing for different audiences and writing in different voices.

However, all of Nika’s videos aren’t about creative writing. This video is actually about cover letters:

This video is especially practical, yet the video is still entertaining and quirky in her own creative way.

Even if you don’t like creative writing, I highly encourage you to check out this vlog series, it’s very entertaining and informative.

NaNoWriMo

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It’s that time again! November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and at The Writing Center we are excitedly anticipating its arrival.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to encourage its participants to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. It sounds intimidating, but its bark is really worse than its bite. The main purpose that the organizers of NaNoWriMo have is to encourage you to participate. NaNoWriMo isn’t a “if you ain’t first, you’re last” event, the hope is that you’ll write, period. That said, the 50,000 word limit is purely arbitrary, but you do get a nifty certificate if you get there.

Plus, we would be happy to work with you on your novels in The Writing Center!

The local Great Lansing community has your back too! Here is a list of upcoming NaNoWriMo events in the area.

  • Write Ins every Thursday in November (except Thanksgiving) at Old Chicago Okemos starting at 7 pm.
  • Write Ins every Saturday at The Avenue Cafe starting at 11 am.
  • TGIO party Sunday December 1 – Time and Place TBD

Writing Resources: Grammar Girl

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between affect and effect? Lay and lie? i.e. and e.g.? Grammar Girl has the answers to these questions and many others that elude writers far and wide. Grammar Girl is an online resource that provides answers to commonly misunderstood grammar issues. The source of these answers is the site’s host, former magazine and technical writer Mignon Fogarty. Fogarty has written several books on grammar and provides sneak peaks from her works on the Grammar Girl website.

Grammar Girl has a wide range of information, including but not limited to grammar, punctuation, word choice, and style. The fact that grammar girl discusses word choice is probably my favorite feature of the site! I’ve always been one to over-think word choice in my writing. One of my favorite examples is “101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master In No Time”, which is a number of  sneak peaks to one of Fogarty’s books. In these posts, word choice is discussed in great detail.

However, there is one thing that any Grammar Girl user should be aware of. Grammar Girl by itself won’t be able to answer all of your grammar questions. The site is very robust, but in no way all encompassing. My suggestion is to use Grammar Girl in addition to other great writing resources (like the The Writing Center @ MSU!). Grammar Girl isn’t a perfect one-stop destination for all of your grammar needs, but it is still an incredibly helpful resource.

Writing Resources: Giant Golden Buddha (and 364 more 5 minute writing exercises)

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Giant Golden Buddha and 364 more 5 minute writing exercises is a series of writing prompts by author C.M. Mayo. Here’s how it works. There is a prompt for each day of the year. After reading the daily prompt, write on that topic for at least 5 minutes and become a better writer. Personally, I use Giant Golden Buddha as a warm-up exercise if I’m writing a long piece or am experiencing writer’s block.

Here’s an example prompt:

 

January 22

“Magical Furniture”

This is a little exercise in magical realism. With realistic detail, write a scene in which your character has a conversation with a piece of furniture. Assume that the person and the piece of furniture disagree about something.

 

Often you’ll find that these prompts are short, simple, and really fun to write about. When I wrote on this prompt, I wrote about a chair and a person arguing about the legitimacy of ergonomic furniture design. It was really entertaining to write and I feel comfortable assuming I wouldn’t have written that type of piece without being prompted.

This series is one that I really enjoy for a few reasons. First, it has helped me become a better writer. In most things practice makes perfect, and writing is no different. I’ve found that this kind of practice is really good at flexing those writing muscles. Also, as I said before, I find that these exercises are nice warm-ups for writing anything longer than a couple of pages. I use these exercises in my writing process to get the creative juices flowing before writing a piece that I’d rather not trudge through.

Writing Resources: Son of Citation Machine

Son of Citation Machine is a great resource for making citations in MLA, APA, Turabian, and Chicago citation styles. Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough to quick and easy citations.

Notice the bar on the left side where the different citation styles listed. Select whichever citation style you are using. You’ll get a screen that looks like this (I chose MLA) :

                            CM front copy

Next, notice that the central part of the page has many links. Select the link that corresponds with whatever type of source you are trying to cite.

                CM MLA copy

 At the next screen, you’ll see multiple text box fields and descriptions next to each box. This is where you will fill in as much information as you can about your source. Remember that you won’t always be able to fill all of these fields, so input as much information as you can. Once that’s done, click on the giant “make citation” button.

CM MLA example with button copy

That’s it! In the top box, there is a properly formated citation that can be used in your works cited page. Also, in the bottom box there is a ready-to-use in-text citation. Simple, right?

CM MLA final product copy

While Son of Citation Machine is a great resource for creating citations, it doesn’t teach you how to put citations into your paper or even how to cite correctly. Therefore, I usually use a style guide in addition to using Son of Citation Machine. For MLA and APA styles, Purdue OWL is really great.

Check it out, and happy citing!

Writing Resources: visuwords.com

Screen shot of "writing" search on visuwords.comVisuwords is an online visual dictionary and thesaurus. It is a great resource to use when you feel stumped during the brainstorming process, if there’s that one word that’s on the tip of your tongue, and much more.

Here’s how it works: when you search a word, you get a word map that contains a large number of related words, your root word being the center. These other words are related to the root word in some way, like pertaining to the word’s definition, being synonyms, antonyms, or derivations of the root word, and many other helpful things. Also, you are given the definition for each word on the map, which depending on your root word can be near a hundred words.

This is an incredible resource for brainstorming due to the enormous amount of information you will receive just by typing one word. But don’t be intimidated by the large quantity of information you’ll receive—the visual “word cloud” aspect of visuwords make this bombardment of ideas easy to digest. Plus with all the words you’ll be seeing, chances are you’ll improve your vocabulary as well.

I love this resource because it’s great for brainstorming, and a must have for visual learners. Go check it out!