Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Guest Post from Nikolas at Grammarly

Hi! I've got Nikolas here from Grammarly doing a guest post. Without further adieu...

Is that a naked stick figure? ...Why yes, yes it is.

5 Common Mistakes of New College Writers
Regardless of a student's chosen discipline, writing in college is an unavoidable task. Whether in composition studies or in discipline-specific classes, every student is expected to possess the basic skills of academic writing and must be able to display those skills through assignments, essays, and papers. Many students, however, enter college without some of these fundamental skills, and ultimately, their academic writing career suffers for it.
Thankfully, many students have these skills, having learned them in high school English assignments, but have often hidden them away due to a dislike of writing. What happens then is that these students enter college and make some very common writing mistakes, mistakes that can be overcome by a basic understanding of the fundamentals of academic writing. In my work for Grammarly, I study how people write as well as the tools they use to become better writers. I find some of the most common mistakes new college writers make to be:
Thesis Statements – Even though it is the most important sentence in an academic paper, many students misunderstand the basic purpose of a thesis statement. Essentially, the thesis statement serves two functions in a paper: it states a claim, and it gives the reader a roadmap of the paper. Basically put, the thesis statement informs the reader of what the paper will argue and what it will use to argue it. Without a thesis statement, a paper – regardless of discipline – will be nearly impossible to follow and understand.
Organization – It's important, also, to understand that most academic papers follow the same structure. They open with an introduction, which ends with the thesis statement, and is then followed by the paragraphs that support the thesis statement before ending with a conclusion that wraps the paper up. When writing papers, many students structure their writing out of order, often writing on the fly, without much preplanning. The result is a paper that feels unorganized and is hard to follow. The easiest way for students to overcome organization mistakes is to spend time working out a solid outline of their paper before they even begin writing. Determine the support for the thesis and then outline in what order you intend to write about that support.
Paragraph Structure – Once a student has established the appropriate organization of his or her paper, they must then work on structuring the paragraphs. As with the organization of the paper on the whole, most paragraphs within an academic paper follow the same formula:
  • Topic Sentence: They begin with a topic sentence that details exactly what the paragraph will talk about. It's important to keep in mind that all paragraphs should talk about only one topic. If a student tries to work too many subjects into a paragraph, the paragraph becomes muddled and hard to understand. The topic sentence will help keep the paragraph on task. Also, it should reflect an idea within the thesis statement to show how the paragraph fits in with the larger argument.
  • Illustrations: These are the examples, quotations, research, and outside sources that support the topic sentence. For example, if your topic sentence talks about a correlation between outside stress and negative interactions within a marriage, the illustrations might be the findings of studies that have been done on the subject or statistics that show this correlation.
  • Explanation: Every paragraph must end with an explanation that shows how the illustrations support the topic sentence. It isn't enough that a student gives his or her reader statistics that show a correlation between outside stress and negative interactions within a marriage, but he or she must also explain how those statistics are relevant to the topic sentence, and thus the thesis statement of the paper.
A solid paragraph will begin with a topic sentence, followed by illustrations and explanations. More complex paragraphs may have multiple illustrations and explanations, but there will always be only one topic sentence.
Editing – Many college students, especially new students, choose to not start writing their essays until the night before they are due, failing to leave adequate time at the end of the process for editing their essays. This is unfortunate, since editing is the most important part of the writing process. An easy way to avoid this mistake is for a student to simply start working on his or her assignment early, ensuring that he or she will have ample time before the assignment is due to finish editing the essay.
Grammatical Errors – While no college professor will ever fail a student's paper because of grammatical mistakes, often too many grammatical and stylistic errors will make a paper look unprofessional, thus making the student look unprofessional. Thankfully, this is the easiest mistake to overcome if you utilize some of the tools available online. For example, over at Grammarly, we offer one of the most sophisticated English proofreading tools on the Internet. A student simply has to upload his or her essay, and the grammar checker will scan the text for more than 200 common grammatical errors. Fixing these errors will leave the student with an essay that looks professional and polished, something his or her professor will appreciate greatly.
Regardless of discipline, all college students will be required to write assignments in some fashion. Because of this, it's important that they understand some of the common mistakes that new college writers make when faced with these tasks. Overcoming these mistakes will lead to greater writing skills, and thus better grades in classes that require written assignments.
Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.

Thanks Nikolas! So I noticed some similarities between how to write a paper and how to write a work of fiction, so I couldn't help but share.
Thesis Statement: In a work of fiction this would be the call to action. It's what sets the hero on the path toward the main conflict.

Organization: Works of fiction also follow a basic structure. Start with an introduction to your character, defining who they are enough for your audience to care what happens to them. Follow this up with the call to action, chapters that explore that action, finished with a kick-butt climax and a strong resolution.

Paragraph Structure: Paragraphs in papers are more equivalent to scenes in novels. Scenes should be tight, with no wasted space, each one serving a purpose to the plot or character development, or hopefully both. They should have these elements:
  • Set the scene: We should know where we are, who's there, and what they're doing there.
  • Conflict: What's a story without conflict? Need I say more?
  • This last step can be one of two things. Either you ramp up the drama with a big problem, or you drive the character development forward with them making a decision. Don't end the chapter with, "Then I went to bed."
Editing and Grammar:  Are important. Don't skip out!

Whatever you're writing, take care with it.

Don't forget to check out my Goodreads giveaway. Also, a quick announcement: I've signed up for Matchbook with Amazon, so if you buy the paperback through them, you can download the kindle version for free. Sweet deal!

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