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The Writing Coach

~ a series of micro-lectures on common writing topics ~


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Writing Research, and Documentation

Grammar and Mechanics

As with many subjects, writing can be approached in a variety of ways. The information you'll find here is based on my experience teaching college writing and should give you a background for your writing projects. It's not meant to replace your books and can't by its nature, go into as much detail.  It is, however, a good tool for you to use to get started--but remember, different teachers approach things differently, so always be sure to work with your instructor to understand the particular methods and styles they prefer.

  The Writing Process

  The Eight Parts of Speech

  Academic Writing Expectations

  Sentence Fragments

  Informative v. Argumentative

  Run-ons & Comma Splices

  Thesis Statements

  Active & Passive Voice



  Sentence Types


  Identifying Your Audience


  Research Basics


  Selecting a Topic

 Capitals, Italics, & Underlining

  Integrating Research

  Working with Numbers

  Documentation 101


  MLA Basics

  Leave Feedback

  APA Documentation





Writing, Research, and Documentation

The Writing Process   (length 12.55)
This refresher is intended to provide you with an overview of the writing process.  Understanding the recursive nature of writing can go a long way in helping writer make the transition from a novice academic writer to a polished, more sophisticated writer capable of producing stronger end products.

 Expectations of Academic Writing   (length 16.57)
Just as understanding the writing process is important in being a successful college-level writer, so too is knowing the basic principles that constitute "academic writing."  Being able to distinguish between formal and informal writings (and knowing the conventions that accompany each) is a good way to help you to meet your instructor's expectations more fully.

Informative and Argumentative Writing   (length 14.23)
Informative and argumentative writing are two staples of academic discourse.  However, the two types of writing make very different demands on the writers.  Knowing the basic tenets of each mode of presentation will help you greatly when it comes time to craft your work.

Thesis Statements   (length 16.43)
A strong thesis statement is crucial to good academic writing.  It alerts readers to the main idea, message, or opinion that a work will convey and allows them to digest the information more easily.  Papers with weak theses force readers to try and figure out what the paper is about and how all the pieces fit together whereas a strong thesis allows the readers to zero in on the focus and process the information more easily.

Paragraphing  (length 15.17 )
Academic writing demands a different approach to paragraphing than does more informal types of writing such as emails or journals.  In writing strong academic paragraphs writers are expected to offer claims and then develop them in the paragraphs by including ample support for their position.  No longer will one or two sentence paragraphs suffice; in academic writing paragraphs will be much longer and more developed.

Sentence Types     (length 15.10)
Knowing the four basic sentence types can go a long way in building strong academic works.  Varying one's sentence types can keep readers moving along smoothly plus, on a less overt level, it can help establish your dexterity and credibility as a writer.  Knowing the four types will also help you recognize sentence errors in your work (you'll know what ISN'T a sentence) and will help you to combine and condense sentences in your draft so that your words can really work in your favor.

Identifying Your Audience     (length 8.33)
Being able to create a profile of your readership will go a long way in helping you decide what to include in your essay.  By keeping your readership in mind you will be able to select evidence and details that are likely to sway the people reading your work and, in turn, have more success waging your argument.

Research     (length 17.48)
Good writers turn to a variety of resources for research.  This refresher will acquaint you not only with a basic overview of the research process, but it will also address four great places to turn for information: reference works, books, periodicals, and web resources.  Knowing how to draw upon these four avenues for information will help you wage a strong and successful argument.

Selecting a Topic    (length 16.01)
One thing that can make or break a paper is its topic.  A writer can really set him/herself up for success by selecting a topic that is appropriate to the assignment, that lends itself to research and argument (assuming that's part of your assignment), and that can be adequately developed given the time and resources available.

Integrating Research     (length  15.17)
This micro-lecture focuses on how to use the information you've found during your research.  It addresses what does and does not need documenting, as well as discusses general principles of plagiarism.  Familiarizing yourself with the information in this refresher will help you write with more confidence and assist you in knowing what needs to be documented so as to ensure you do not accidentally plagiarize.

Documentation 101     (length 13.29)
Regardless of the documentation style you're using in a paper, the information here can help you better understand some of the basic principles underlying when and why writers document sources.

MLA Basics     (length 13.10)
Courses in the Fine Arts and the Humanities often rely on the documentation standards set forth by the Modern Language Association (MLA).  This refresher provides a quick tour of MLA basics, including an overview of in-text citations and works cited pages.  It doesn't cover every form (your handbook's a great resource for that), but it does discuss some of the basic ideas underlying this staple of the Humanities and Fine Arts. 

APA Basics     (length 15.39)
In the physical sciences and the social sciences, APA style is often the preferred standard.  This refresher will cover some of the most basic, guiding principles of APA style and will allow viewers to better understand some of the logic behind this system.  In addition, this refresher covers some of the most basic formatting questions (but for full APA style information, especially for proper citation forms, be sure to reference a current handbook).


Grammar and Mechanics

Sentence Fragments     (length  13.27)
Sentence fragments (and their cousins, run-on sentences) appear frequently in the work of many beginning writers.  Fragments disrupt the flow of the writer's work and cause readers to work hard to make sense of what's before them.  Oftentimes readers begin to doubt a writer's ability when he/she writes in fragments and they sometimes end up focusing more on HOW the writer says what he/she says, rather than WHAT he/she says.  Writing complete sentences is expected at the college level and will help writers to move beyond the basics.

Run-on Sentences and Comma Splices     (length 12.08 )
Run-on (or fused) sentences are common among beginning writers.  Knowing how to recognize run-on sentences, and also knowing how to remedy those errors, will help you check your own work with confidence.  This refresher provides a quick peek into what constituted a run-on sentence and how that differs from a comma splice, as well as several ways to revise each.  A few practice activities are included.

 The Eight Parts of Speech     (length 17.14)
We all learned about the eight parts of speech once upon a time.  However, too many of us have forgotten just what these basic building blocks are all about.  This micro-lecture provides a very brief overview of each of the eight essential components from which all sentences are made.  Refreshing what the eight parts are and how they work in a sentence can go a long way in helping you improve as a writer.

Active and Passive Voice     (length  8.57)
Transitive verbs can possess something called "voice" which, in short, establishes whether the subject of a sentence is doing an action or is being acted upon.  Knowing the differences between active and passive voice, as well as being able to identify occurances of each, will help you select the right voice for your purpose, be consistent in your voice, and eliminate wordy and fleshy sentences in favor of lean, strong prose.

Shifts     (length 14.53)
Shifts are some of the most common grammatical errors made by beginning writers.  They cause a "bump" in your prose and allow readers to become distracted, subtly encouraging them to focus not only on WHAT you say, but also HOW you say it.  Shifts are readily spotted, but happily, they are also readily fixed.  Familiarizing yourself with some of the most common types of shifts will help you know what to look for as you revise your own work to eliminate these common distractions.

Transitions     (length 8.54)
Transitions are words and phrases that help readers move smoothly between sections of your paper, between sentences in a paragraph, and even between words in a sentence.  Transitional expressions serve a variety of purposes and carefully selecting the right one for the right purpose can help you convey your meaning accurately and smoothly.

Parallelism     (length 13.37)
When presenting words or phrases that are similar in idea, you want to make sure and put them in parallel (or similar) grammatical form.  Likewise, when you're including items from a list, you'll want to be sure and present them in a parallel grammatical form.  This refresher provides a quick tour of the basics of parallelism, helping you to present your ideas smoothly and in the same grammatical form when appropriate.

Apostrophes   (length 12.13)
Novice writers are sometimes confused about when to use apostrophes and when not to use them.  This refresher will reacquaint you with basic apostrophe use, including signaling contractions, signaling omissions, and signaling possession (the apostrophe's most common use).

Capitalization, Italics, and Underlining     (length 17.25)
Knowing the basic conventions of capitalization, italics, and underlining can go a long way in helping writers polish their works.  Adhering to the basic rules shows an attention to detail and the ability to decipher what are, sometimes, confusing guidelines.  This quick introduction to the proper use of capitalization, italics, and underlining will help you know the rules more fully so you can follow them with confidence.

Working with Numbers     (length 12.15)
Writers oftentimes have need to include numbers in their prose, and knowing whether to write out a number or to use its Arabic representation is sometimes confusing.  This quick refresher will help you decipher which approach to take in various common situations.