Category Archives: Quick Guide

How to Survive Your Next Cover Letter Experience

It’s cover letter season. Most of us, if we haven’t already, are scrambling around to secure an internship or job for the summer, and unfortunately, this means that all of our (abundance of) free time is spent writing (or avoiding) cover letters. To help you with your job or internship search, here are a few tips to make the dreaded cover letter writing process a little less painful.

  • Do your research. Before writing any cover letter, be sure to check out the company’s website, social media pages, and any other relevant sources. Take notes on the company’s main functions, values, and beliefs. Look back at your notes when you’re done. What does this company want in an employee? Incorporate this information into your cover letter and argue that you are the best fit for their company. Hiring managers will be impressed by your knowledge of the company, and this makes you stand out among other candidates.
  • Find a real person to address your letter to. Search LinkedIn or the company’s website to find the name of a human resources manager or recruiter. Addressing your letter to one of these people is more personal than addressing it to the hiring manager or hiring committee. It also shows that you’ve done your research.
  • Pull out key words from the job posting and integrate them into your letter. I like to print out job ads, pull out my favorite colorful pen, and then scribble all over the ad, circling words and phrases that describe traits and skills that I have. Pointing out the specific ways I fit the job description helps me organize my professional experience and write about it in a way that fits the job I’m applying for. Including key phrases from the job posting in your cover letter shows that you’ve paid careful attention to the position’s duties and roles within the organization.
  • Write a new cover letter for every job. Companies will recognize a cookie cutter cover letter right when they see it. Instead, customize your letter to fit the position and company you’re applying for. Mention specific information about their company and the position. This shows hiring managers that you’ve put in the time and effort to write a cover letter catered directly to their needs.

These suggestions cover only the tip of the iceberg. For more advice, visit And don’t forget—we’re always available to help at the Writing Center!

Out of Cite, Out of Mind: Tips for Nailing Your Next Bibliography

At the Writing Center, we’re happy to help you through every stage of the writing process, but unfortunately, we’re not experts on every single citation style—nobody really is! The important thing is knowing how to find information on citations. Citing your work can be tricky, so to help you out, here are a few resources you can use while writing your next paper.

The Library

Did you know that you can find all the style guides at the library? All you have to do is ask at the circulation desk, and the receptionist can provide you with the AP Stylebook, MLA Handbook, Chicago Manual of Style, and APA Publication Manual, among others. Though you can’t take these books home, you can check out a book for two hours with your MSU ID. The Chicago Manual of Style is also available free online with your MSU library account, so you don’t even have to leave home to complete your bibliography.

Citation Machine ( and Bibme (

Citation Machine is a website that allows you to pick your citation style and either search the name of your source or plug in the key details about your source. Click the “create citation” button, and you have your completed citation ready to go! Bibme is very similar to Citation Machine and offers the same services. Try both and figure out what works best for you. When working with sites like these, it’s usually a good idea to consult your style guide just to make sure the citation you received is correct.

Purdue OWL (

Purdue OWL offers a wide variety of information, including citation examples for every style guide. Use the “Research and Citation” section of the site to view comprehensive information about bibliographies and citations for each style. Besides offering citation tips, Purdue OWL also offers plenty of other helpful tips about writing, so be sure to check those out when you’re in a writing rut.

Zotero ( and RefWorks (

With Zotero, you can collect all your research and store it in your own personal database. The program organizes your sources into collections and then allows you to cite your sources in any style—Zotero offers thousands of publication formats. RefWorks is a similar site that also allows you to create bibliographies from your personal database. Both have slightly different features, so play around to find the website that best fits your needs.

Still stumped? Google is your best friend. Just make sure your sources are reliable. You can usually trust university websites, and if you’re still struggling, ask your professor for help.

Starting a Sentence With Because

I’m going to be honest with you, there are some grammar rules that I really don’t care about. Actually, there’s a lot of them. Really, most of them. That being said, sometimes it’s important to know and follow the rules, because other people care about them no matter how silly they are.

And so, today, we are going to examine one of the sillier rules of grammar: whether you can or cannot start a sentence with “because”. A lot of people will say that you can’t start a sentence with “because” and be using “proper” grammar. While it is true that starting a sentence with “because” is usually “incorrect”, it’s only because it results in an incomplete sentence. Thus, sometimes you can start a sentence with “because” and still be in the clear. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

“Because” is a subordinating conjunction. A subordinating conjunction is a word that joins two clauses, one of which is independent and one of which is dependent. I know that’s a lot of jargon, but basically what we’re looking at is this: we have a sentence with two parts, and “because” joins them together. The two parts have to be in the same sentence for the use of “because” to be “correct”. Otherwise, one of the clauses becomes a sentence fragment, which is a problem.

The reason you can’t usually start a sentence with “because” is because the sentence needs two parts for because to join together. Usually, “because” goes in between the two clauses, so if we start a sentence with “because” there is often only one clause in the sentence. Put simply, if “because” is in a sentence, the sentence needs two parts to be “correct”. Let’s look at an example.

We decided to go to the pool because it was hot outside.

The two clauses we are looking at are “We decided to go to the pool” and “it was hot outside”. “Because” links them together and makes them friends. Let’s look at what would happen if we were to split the sentence up into two.

We decided to go to the pool. Because it was hot outside.

Now that the two clauses are in different sentences, “because” can’t really join them together. The clauses can’t be friends and now they’re lonely, making the second sentence “incorrect.”

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Continue reading

Affect vs. Effect: When to Use Each

Sometimes, the English language is really silly. There are a lot of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and used differently, for virtually no reason. The words “affect” and “effect” are a classic example of two words that simply do not need to be this confusing.

Luckily, I have sat through enough boring grammar classes to understand the difference and hopefully I can help sort it out a little. Let’s dive right in, shall wee?


In general, the word affect is used as a verb. A good way to remember this is that affect is an action. If you’re talking about something that someone does, it’s affect.

Example: The book really affected Sally’s opinion; she had never thought about parenting in that way before.

Because the book is acting upon Sally, we are using the word as an action so we say affect.


In contrast, effect is used as a noun. The effect of something is the end-result. If you’re talking about an end product or situation, you’re going to want to use effect.

Example: The trial had a negative effect on the small town.

Because the negative feelings are the end product, we are using effect.

Sound good? Great! Because it’s about to get a little bit more complicated. Continue reading

Seven Survival Strategies for Surviving Finals Week

We all know the struggle that life becomes during finals week. The hectic, crazy, chaotic mess of way too much to do, with far too little sleep on top of a malnourished diet proves to be a feat to tackle each and every semester. As a 26 year-old undergrad who has been taking classes since fall of 06, I’ve come up with some strategies that I use to help me make it through.

1. Get organized. It is absolutely essential for me to create several lists of work to be completed and determine based on due dates and personal interest the order of which I will start crossing things out. I have to see the big picture and devise a solid plan in order to not feel to overwhelmed to do anything.


2. Breaks. Study breaks are necessary. Regardless of how you spend your breaks, they are important to take. Sometimes the best ideas come to us when we remove ourselves from the situation and are doing some other mindless thing. It is also important to plan study breaks from which you can easily return to work from.

3. Eat. Your brain cannot function without carbohydrates. It is hard to maintain a well-balanced diet through the stress of a crazy finals week, especially when you’re broke! But making sure you’re getting nutrients to your brain is a must!


4. Exercise. I am a runner. I have to move my body and expel some energy in order to be able to sit and focus on work later. If you regularly exercise, it is important to keep to your routine, even if you’re feeling you don’t have the time, just do a short run or gym session. Our bodies need what they’re used to.

5. Incentives! Ahh, my favorite. You must reward yourself, and give yourself incentives for various tasks in order to make it through the big picture work. Mine looks something like, if I finish the body of this paper I get a glass of wine*. If I finish the paper, I get a glass of wine and an entire bag of Totino’s Pizza Rolls. So don’t forget to give yourself treats, you’re earning them!


6. Fluid intake. You must drink water! There is so much to do and on little sleep. Keeping up on water intake is vital for staying healthy throughout finals week. Not to mention, if you drink as much caffeine as I do, water is important to balance the anti-diuretic-ness.

7. Jams. The right music is a must for me making it through finals week. I like to have a private dance party around my apartment with my ear buds in, blaring so loud I’m sure that when I’m 65 I will no longer be able to hear certain frequencies. I need certain pump-me-up jams at times to make it through. It has also been proven that listening to jazz or classical music while studying is more effective than studying with any other type or music or without music at all.

Good luck to you all this finals week! I hope some of these strategies will help you survive!

*Drink responsibly.

How To Survive Finals Week Without Going Completely Crazy

Finals week sucks. There’s no way around it. I’ve been through four years worth of finals weeks, and they always suck. That being, I have developed some strategies for making it a little bit more bearable. If you can spare the time from studying, let’s talk about how to get through finals week with your sanity in tact.

1.    Plan ahead. Don’t leave everything until the last minute. Look at your deadline and work backwards to make a doable schedule for finishing everything. Working a fair amount for a few weeks is going to be a lot less stressful than working yourself to death for a few days. Give yourself plenty of time to get everything done to try to minimize your panic. This has the added benefit of breaking up your work into manageable chunks. It’s a lot less overwhelming to think about the next thing you have to do than think about all the things you have to do. Giving yourself a plan will be good for your schedule and your sanity.

2.    Take regular, scheduled breaks. I always tell myself I’m going to take a break after I finish this chapter or whatever, but by the time I finish the chapter it’s 2:00 in the morning and I don’t have time for a break any more. Tell yourself you’re going to take a break every three hours or so, regardless of how much work you have finished. Then, actually take the break. I know you can get so caught up in the finals week frenzy that you think you can’t spare the ten minutes of break time, but your studying will be a lot more efficient if you’ve taken the time to recharge, and you’ll actually finish more.

3.    Make sure your break is relaxing. I know it feels unproductive to take a break, but don’t trick yourself into doing different work when you should be relaxing. Take a bath, go for a jog, veg out with some television, whatever, just don’t do something that is going to continue to make you anxious, like cleaning. Your break should be relaxing or invigorating, not taxing and stressful.

4.    Engage in physical activity. Get up and move as much as possible during your study time. Sitting still for prolonged periods is really hard on your body; it will distract you from studying, and it will lessen the quality of your sleep. Take the time to go for a walk, do some yoga, or do whatever physical activity you enjoy. This is a great thing to do during your scheduled breaks. Even doing a few stretches or walking around your room will make you feel more relaxed, healthy, and focused.

5.    Get a good night’s sleep. I know. I know. You have to stay up all night studying. The thing is, your memories don’t consolidate until you’ve slept, so it’s better to get less studying done and then sleep than to get more studying done without sleeping. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re less productive, you have less memory retention, your reasoning skills are impaired, and, let’s face it, you’re totally crazy. Get some sleep. You’ll feel a lot better, and you’ll do better on your exams. I promise.

6.    Don’t get caught up in competition. Okay, so we all know that guy. That guy who wants to talk about how he did so much more studying than you and he stayed up so much later and he made so many more flashcards. And then you’re like, man, I need to make more flashcards and stay up even later. And pretty soon you’re chugging down five-hour energies surrounded by huge stacks of flashcards, slowly losing your grip on reality. Don’t do that. Study as much as you need to, not whatever arbitrary amount will make you feel like you have suffered the most.

7.    Take the time to see some friends, but only ones that have a positive effect. Hang out with friends who are going to really relax you and help you unwind. Don’t hang out with anyone who is going to freak you out, or who is going to distract you from your studies too much. They can wait until next week.

8.    Try not to sweat it. Grades are important, but they aren’t worth your sanity.  Worst comes to worst, you get a bad grade. It’s not ideal, but it’s not going to ruin your life. Do your best, but don’t let yourself lose sight of what’s really important: your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. You can do it. Good luck.

How to Write A Good Thesis Statement

Thesis statements are hard to write. There, I said it. As an English major people usually assume that I have some sort of internal thesis generator that spits out finely tuned arguments instantly. This is not true. I often spend an embarrassing amount of time wading through poorly drafted theses (yes, that is the plural) before I finally land on something that works.

That being said, your thesis is important and it deserves a lot of time and attention. It can be difficult to figure out exactly what a good thesis looks like, especially because many professors seem to be unable to present a good definition of what a thesis is. Basically, a thesis statement is a sentence (or several sentences) that outlines the argument you will be defending in your paper. This can seem like a bit of a vague definition, but if you break up the goals of your thesis, it becomes a lot more manageable.

A good thesis statement accomplishes three purposes:

  1. It introduces the topic at hand and gives a reader an idea of what to expect out of the paper.
  2. It presents your argument.
  3. It demonstrates the importance of your argument, giving the reader more reason to be invested in your essay.

Let’s look at some examples of possible thesis statements, and see whether or not they accomplish these goals.

  • This is a paper about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions.

This thesis accomplishes goal number 1, but it doesn’t accomplish the other two goals. For a thesis to successfully present the argument of your paper, someone needs to be able to disagree with it. Because there is no opposing viewpoint to this statement, it does not function as a successful thesis. Your thesis should be a strong argument, which the reader can choose to agree or disagree with.

  • Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions introduced several conventions to the field of autobiography, which helped to create and define the genre of the confessional.

This thesis is better, in that it does present an argument. A potential reader could disagree with the idea that Confessions defined the confessional genre, so this thesis accomplishes both of the first two goals of a successful thesis. However, this thesis does not accomplish the third goal. There should be some sort of importance to your argument; maybe your thesis has implications outside of the specific argument that you’re making, or maybe there is a specific benefit to thinking about the topic in the way that you advocate. In argumentative essays, an easy way to demonstrate the importance of your argument is to provide a “call to action”, in which you ask the reader to do something with your information, such as advocate a change in policy. In literary critiques, it can be helpful to pull your thesis outside of the text and talk about broad implications of your arguments. It is difficult to create a thesis that accomplishes all three of your goals, but it is crucial for having a successful essay.

  • Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions introduced several conventions to the field of autobiography, which helped to create and define the genre of the confessional. Because many of these conventions persist within the confessional genre to this day, gaining an understanding of the devices used within Confessions can provide valuable context to contemporary confessional novels.

Although this thesis is a bit wordy, it does accomplish all three of the goals of a successful thesis. The reader knows what you plan to discuss in the paper, what you are going to argue about your topic, and why it is important. Presenting a fully developed thesis, such as this one, will allow you to write a strong essay.

Writing a thesis with this much depth is tricky. Personally, I find it extremely difficult to break through to a thesis that accomplishes more than the first two goals right away.  Something that I have often noticed in my own writing is that I will write an entire paper on what I think is my thesis, only to find that a more in-depth, well-developed thesis appears in for the first time in the conclusion. If you’re having trouble with your thesis, it may be a good idea to begin writing your paper, and only finalize your thesis once you have already started analyzing your topic. Not only does this take the pressure off of you in the beginning, it allows you plenty of time to truly develop your ideas before you draft your actual thesis.

Thesis statements are hard, but they are important, and they are certainly writeable. If you have a good understanding of your topic and its importance, your thesis is in there somewhere. The only real obstacle is teasing it out and refining it so that it best reflects your thoughts. Good luck.

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 (or a similar site) and provide the URL in your e-mail.
  • Also, don’t do this.

How to Write a Good Introduction

Since the dawn of man, writing has been used to communicate ideas. In academic settings, ideas are typically communicated using formal types of writing such as essays. Most academic essays contain an introductory paragraph, which includes a thesis.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an introduction as, “A preliminary explanation prefixed to or included in a book or other writing; the part of a book which leads up to the subject treated, or explains the author’s design or purpose. Also, the corresponding part of a speech, lecture, etc.”

Michigan State University student Sally used to have a lot of difficulty writing introductions. Once she had suffered through writing dozens of painful introductions, she decided to look up some tips on how to introduce your essay, and after that she got a lot better.

Introductions can be tricky. Because the introduction is the first portion of your essay that the reader encounters, the stakes are fairly high for your introduction to be successful. A good introduction presents a broad overview of your topic and your thesis, and should convince the reader that it is worth their time to actually read the rest of your essay. Below are some tips that will make writing an introduction a little less daunting, and help us all to write essays that don’t make our professors want to bang their heads against the wall.

  1. Start your introduction broad, but not too broad. When I first started writing formal essays, I didn’t really know how broad to go with my intros. A brief paragraph on Hamlet would suddenly include irrelevant details about Shakespeare’s childhood, then grow out to be a history of Western literature, and then a history of the universe itself. Do not write an introduction like this; this kind of intro is confusing and makes the reader wonder where exactly you’re going with your essay. Your introduction should provide the reader with a sense of what they should expect out of your essay, not to expound upon every piece of knowledge ever developed by man. Go ahead and start relatively broad, then narrow to your thesis, but make sure you’re still on topic.
  2. Provide relevant background, but don’t begin your true argument. It’s fine to give a bit of context to your essay in the introduction, but the real meat of your argument should be located in your body paragraphs. A good test to see if information should go in a body or introductory paragraph is to ask yourself a few questions. Is this providing context or evidence? Does this introduce my argument, or try to prove it?  True evidence or proof deserves a body paragraph. Context and background most likely belong in your introduction.
  3. Provide a thesis. The majority of the time, your thesis, or main argument, should occur somewhere towards the end of your introduction. It is a typical convention to put your thesis as the last sentence of your first paragraph. My personal opinion is that it can sometimes be awkward to shove your thesis in one specific place if it doesn’t necessarily fit, but if your thesis works in that position, that is the best place for it. That being said, if you absolutely can’t include your thesis in that location, go ahead and stick it somewhere else. Continue reading

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.