Category: Resources

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 “Affect vs. Effect: When to Use Each”

The Semicolon: Most Feared Punctuation on Earth!

The Oatmeal created one of the greatest posters ever on how to use a semicolon. I sat directly in front of this poster for the entire semester I took WRA 202 (Professional Writing course) and looking at and reading it all semester totally increased my confidence in using the semicolon. I am now a semicolon fanatic! I love the comic style formatting The Oatmeal used to describe appropriate use of “the most feared punctuation on earth”. They documented these rules in a way that is not only interesting to read through, but sticks with the reader in a way they will always remember. So take a look at the poster, and below I’ve highlighted some of the points.

Oatmeal Semicolon

The most common way to utilize the semicolon is to connect two independent clauses. The two statements read aloud with a period have a greater break between them – one would take a breath between the two if this were the case, but would not if the a semicolon was substituted for the period.

  • If you have two independent clauses, meaning each could stand alone as their own sentences, it is then, okay , to use a semicolon.
  • You should use a semicolon when you want to form a bond between two statements, typically when they are related to or in contrast with one another.
  • DON’T use a semicolon with conjunctions. (Conjunctions are words like: and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet.) Commas are used in these situations.
  • Pause factor: Comma – brief pause, Semicolon – moderate pause, Period – complete stop.
  • Use a semicolon to connect sentences that contain internal punctuation.
  • Use a semicolon as a super-comma: if you need to make a list of items that are separated with a comma. Often occurs when listing names, dates, and descriptions.

Check out the poster for memorable examples of these key concepts to remember when using the semicolon. The Oatmeal really did a solid job when explaining when to use and not use the semicolon.

Writing Resource: Fallacy Files

Our new writing resource for this installment is The Taxonomy of Fallacies located at 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.


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.



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

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.

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)


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!