Thoughts from the Tutors – Persnickety Pronouns
– written by Rachel Sharich –
It. Not the book by Stephen King. The simple word it. It all started when a student used the word it. It was typed, and it was mentioned. It was important, but it was confusing. No one who read the essay knew what it meant. Who was it? What was it? It was ambiguous.
When writing academic essays, we sometimes use the word it to avoid repeating ourselves. Technically, the word it refers to the last noun used in the text. But when we overuse this pronoun, we run the risk of confusing our readers (i.e. the professors giving us our grades).
An example of a confusing it: “The cat and the dog fought over the toy. It was entertaining.” In this instance, using the pronoun it makes the idea unclear. Who/what was entertaining? The cat? The dog? The toy? The whole situation? When we write about a cat, a dog, and a toy (all of these are nouns in case it’s been a while since you were in 3rd grade) in the same sentence, the reader doesn’t know which noun we are referring to. The reader (your peer reviewer or professor) is left to assume–which is never a good thing in academic writing.
However, readers are quite accustomed to figuring these things out. Common sense helps us all decipher the unclear wording of any particular statement. Maybe you’re saying, “Only an idiot will be confused by this!” You’re right, and I completely agree with you. But, writing in college is different than posting on Facebook or texting your BFF. We must be clear. We must make our writing free from any little misunderstandings. Stop making your readers guess what it is. Perform a search on your draft for the word it: how many times does the computer find this word? If there are more than a handful, you might need to reword some things. (I certainly reworded this post here and there to avoid the unclear it.)
By the way, this whole it business also extends to other pronouns like he, him, she, her, this, these, they, and them. Which they? Who are they? Are you talking about the two authors of the article you quoted two sentences ago, or are you referencing the researchers of the study you just cited? Stop confusing your readers with it. If you can step back from your writing and find more than one noun for your pronoun, your paper might not be as clear as you’d like.
To sum this all up: use it sparingly.
— written by Emily Bell —
Many students find the phrase ‘thesis statement’ to be a very daunting set of words. I don’t really know why this is– it shouldn’t be this way. Tackling the thesis is much more simple than English Majors make it out to be. Hopefully I can clear up how to write a functional thesis statement that will serve student needs.
A thesis statement is simply a declaration of what your paper is going to focus on. The hangup students commonly get stuck on is wanting to sound sophisticated. Just because a paper is written for a university course, doesn’t mean the rhetoric has to sound really fancy. Yes, professors expect that university students use a wide vocabulary, but what they really care about is whether your essay is clear and concise or not. Students can use a well constructed thesis statement to build the foundation of a ‘good’ essay with.
There are two basic types of thesis statements– mechanical and organic. There are, of course, many other types of theses students can write, but in my experience, mechanical and organic are the most commonly used here at Dixie. For my examples, I am writing a thesis for a literary analysis of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
A mechanical thesis works similar to a fill-in-the-blank question. This type of thesis can be structured as follows:
In [name of text] by [name of author], the writer uses [technique 1, technique 2, and technique 3] to convey [whatever the prompt asks for].
In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the narration uses metaphorical language, a single narrative voice, and allegory to define Nick’s quest for answers.
The mechanical thesis is something most students are very familiar with. I have heard this referred to as a ‘1 2 3 Thesis’. This type of thesis can be very beneficial to students who have a hard time keeping the body of a paper in line with the thesis. In this scenario, I know exactly what to write about and when. I will write about the metaphorical language, then the narrative voice, and finally the usage of allegory. There will be little room for roaming in my essay, and I will tend to analyze rather than summarize because my thesis is very clear about what I need to be writing on.
I use a mechanical thesis when I am writing a research paper or something very strictly factual because it’s easier for me to insert the information in a mold rather than try to shape all I know into a semi-recognizable shape.
An organic thesis doesn’t have a set structure, rather, it grows out of the author’s ideas.The organic thesis is less formulaic and the essay can be more difficult to write. An organically written essay is loosely structured and is more appealing to readers.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a bildungsroman which chronicles Nick Carroway in the summer of 1922 as he attempts to understand the enigmatic Jay Gatsby and the events which punctuated his tragic life through the use of many literary devices, including a single narrative voice and metaphorical language.
The organic thesis in this scenario is longer than the mechanical thesis. This is not uncommon with organic theses. Students shouldn’t shy away from a slightly longer thesis if it will cause a more well thought-out paper. I made a list at the end of the statement to give the reader a small sample of what I will write about. Note that I will have to follow through and mention narrative voice and metaphorical language in my essay at least once now.
My essay is going to sound natural and genuine. My voice will come out more easily because I didn’t set a hard structure to fill with information. I tend to use this type of thesis more often for literary analyses (and when it will work) because I can add in new literary devices and techniques as I come across them in the text without having to completely restructure my paper.
Remember, of course, that if you are having trouble formulating your thesis statement (or if you have any other writing concerns), you are always welcome in the Dixie State University Writing Center.
— written by Alicia Ferree —
You tuck a little piece of yourself into everything you write. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to reveal your writing to other people; it’s like giving them a glimpse into your soul. In times past, I have written a deeply personal story (but did not necessarily write it so that the reader would know it’s a personal story), and I felt like I had opened a vein and bled all over the paper. Then I had someone read it to get his or her opinions or to offer ideas for improvement or criticism. His or her critiques (even constructive criticisms) cut me deeply because I had made myself vulnerable to attack (even if I had asked for the critique and this person’s comments were intended to be kind and helpful).
As DSU Writing Center tutors, we can forget these vulnerable feelings. Perhaps we’ve become toughened after many semesters of professor’s red (or purple or blue) markings covering our papers. Perhaps we’ve come to view their comments as they are intended: to improve our writing abilities.
The newer students may tip-toe into the Writing Center, half-afraid their work will be found seriously lacking in the understanding of how to write appropriate English, let alone in the expected academic level. These students may not have had the opportunity to hear all the ways in which their writing is good. Even if they receive an 85 percent on a paper, their paper may only list the 15 percent of mistakes they made.
Many people have heard of improvisation in movies, television, and on live stage. A method used in improvisation is called “YES, AND.” In Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, she writes about the “Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*” (http://sostark.net/post/4965998605/tina-feys-rules-of-improvisation-that-will-change).
She begins by stating, “The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You [jerk]!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.”
She goes on, “Now, obviously in a [tutoring appointment] you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to ‘respect what your partner has created’ and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.” This can and ought to apply to tutors who are working with a tentative student, who is presenting them with a blood-soaked paper (see above comment).
She adds, “As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no.” One way to keep the dialogue of the tutoring session open and engaging, tutors can follow Fey’s second rule. She continues, “The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with ‘I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,’ and you just say, ‘Yeah…’ we’re kind of at a standstill. A way to keep the dialogue going would be to add something like ‘What did you expect? We’re in hell.’ or ‘Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.’ or ‘I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,’ now we’re getting somewhere.”
Her YES AND technique sets the student up to not be afraid to contribute. It’s the student’s responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re each adding something to the discussion. You make to make sure the student’s initiations are worthwhile.
Fey’s “next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying ‘Don’t ask questions all the time.’ If we’re in a scene and I say, ‘Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?’ I’m putting pressure on you [the student] to come up with all the answers.”
In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag.” Don’t just ask the student, “Why did you use a comma here?” Make a statement like “Here is an excellent use of a comma.”
She ends with “this leads us to the best rule: THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.” Beginning each comment with “YES, AND” gives the student a sense that they are being praised and creates an open environment.
-written by Lacy Csere-
The hashtag. I don’t know whether to bow down to this tiny symbol or chuck a Molotov cocktail at it. The hashtag is used widely in social media to link related photos and posts, an internet shorthand that tramples silly things like grammar and sentence structure. Horrifying! Why shorten a glorious five page thesis on how FREAKING AMAZING my hamburger is into #fatburger #baconfordays #BOSS? More words=more better, right?
Let’s talk logistics.
Most social media sites limit their users’ posts to only 160 characters. Throwing up a well composed, poetic sentiment on Facebook is easy, as the character limit is much larger than, let’s say, Twitter. As a non-Twitterer, this didn’t dawn on me until well after I had loudly and publicly established my white hot hate of hashtags. I hashtag shamed the crap out of anyone who would listen. I found myself constantly enraged by the shortcuttyness. I wanted to punch #sorrynotsorry in the face.
Being a huge nerd, I couldn’t help but notice patterns in how hashtags were presented. Glinting between the glaring spelling errors and shallow ideas was something…almost academic. Le gasp! Could I relate my snobbish learnedness to this, the lowest form of communication known to man?
Wait for it….
The hashtag: hypertextual suggestions used in collages to suggest underlying messages and context in text and photos. Layers of micro ideas coated upon each other create interpretive messages, inviting the viewer to supply their own experiences to the content. Subtle connections drawing people toward collective, inherent human thoughts and desires, the formation of a technological hive-mind. Community.
Users communicate with each other, completely isolated, but sharing a consciousness with hundreds or thousands of other people. Unintentional communities springing up in the wasteland of the cybertronic landscape. A figurative Utopia, if you will.
How is this not awesome?!
Subcultures are being created digitally, possibly undetected or unnoticed by their users, yet shared by potentially millions of people all over the world. A subversive, wild language, slithering unnoticed by its users, gaining a mind of its own. This hashtag creature grows more intelligent with each post, swelling and roaring through the web.
With my tail between my legs, I petition to join the community.
What I need, then, is another soul to recognize this creature we are creating, and join me in watching it grow.
–written by Payton Davis–
Like with horrible dates and Ramen Noodles, university students can’t avoid the narrative essay when fulfilling general education requirements—but with a few strategies in mind, the paper provides numerous benefits.
Typically assigned in English 1010, narrative essays push students to mesh two styles they might not think complement each other: research and prose. Narrative essays often include less guidelines and more freedom than other academic papers.
Freedom is good. For beginning writers, however, this freedom might make starting the narrative daunting. Students assigned a narrative essay should answer these three questions to get started:
How does the selected situation change the main character?
Readers arguably react stronger to character development than all other aspects of a creative piece. So when writers consider moments from their lives to write the narrative essay about, the best idea is to choose something that changed either the way they think, act, or interact with others.
Some moments seem interesting, but if the character left the situation exactly the same as when he or she entered it, there’s little potential to inspire readers with character development.
The change the character experiences doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, for a beginning writer, describing a minor change might be easiest. If done right, the process that leads to a character’s change, rather than the change itself, interests the audience more anyway.
How will readers know the character has changed?
Imagine you’ve almost finished reading a narrative essay, and these are the two possible endings:
“… Once the band began playing, I knew the night that once seemed horrible changed the way I looked at both life and my strained relationship with my mother. I stood in the crowd enjoying the music — but truly wanted to drive to mom’s in the country and let her know I wasn’t upset; I just needed space.”
“… I watched the drummer usher the first song in with the flick of his sticks. Shifting weight from my left calf, scabbed from the fall I took on an ice patch outside the venue hours before, to my right heel, I listened to the guitarist’s chord progression; he picked the notes and held his fingers against the fret board so they echoed out like my mother’s yells the night I took a wrong turn off the dirt road between our home and the refinery. She shouted out as consistently as the song’s bass line and finally reached the spot I settled in after darkness masked the corn fields. As we walked home that night, she kept space between us like the distance between myself and the band’s place on the stage: close, but far enough away I lifted my legs to my mid-section to keep up.”
The first option spells out each aspect of the character’s progression for readers; the second one uses action-oriented prose to show ways the character changes because of this moment. Writers should trust that if they put effort into chronicling the character’s change that their audience will understand and appreciate the narrative without needing obvious hints.
How should the essay start?
Starting the essay as close to the end as possible without leaving out pertinent details draws a reader in with the use of instant action.
If a writer chooses the summer before junior year of high school as the period for the story but the climax where she ate chicken cordon bleu for the first time (thus, inspiring her to pursue a culinary degree) didn’t happen until late-July, starting the story when school ends wouldn’t make sense. Creating a timeline tracking the character’s change — whether over months or minutes — might help as a writer decides a starting point.
So considering the plot’s impact on the main character, deciding how to effectively render the change for readers, and determining where to start the story all provide a solid starting point for students tackling their first narrative essay.
Still stuck? Visit the Dixie State University Writing Center on Holland Centennial Common’s fourth floor for more strategies to write an effective narrative essay.
CONTEST DEADLINE: APRIL 20, 2014
Contest winners will be announced April 30th, at which time they will be required to bring their I.D. and social security number to fill out a W-9 form for tax purposes. After the form is processed, checks will be mailed out to recipients.
Shoutout to Shawn Myers for bringing me CUPCAKES on my birthday! (Not to mention he came in apologizing that it was ONLY cupcakes instead of a real cake). HAHA! 🙂
There is only one Writing Center workshop left: It’s about Mastering Basic Punctuation Concepts. Feel free to drop by and learn important skills that you can use for the rest of your lives!
DATE/TIME: Monday, March 24th, 2014; 3pm-4pm
PLACE: Holland Centennial Commons Room 340
See you there! 🙂
It’s time to get started on your important papers for the semester, and the Writing Center Workshops can help you succeed. Prepared by the Writing Center tutors and the English faculty of DSU, these workshops will be held every Wednesday from 12pm-1pm in the Holland Building, Room 475.
October 16, 2013 —Oh where, oh where to begin?
Free Writing and Organizing your Thoughts
October 23, 2013 —It’s about to get controversial.
Creating a Strong Thesis
October 30, 2013 —Do you have any proof?
Creating, Locating, and Evaluating Different forms of Evidence and Argument
October 6, 2013–They said what?!
Learning How to Cite your Sources
November 13, 2013 —Revising that essay like a boss.
Strategies for Revising your Paper
November 20, 2013 —A semicolon is more than just the eyes on a winky face 😉
Mastering Basic Punctuation Concepts
Mark the dates on the calendar and come spend your lunch break becoming enlightened with the English language and getting all kinds of tips for your success!!