Creating Your Own Writing Environment

So you’ve been tasked with some form of writing assignment. You’ve done your research and preparation and now it’s time to sit down and write. So where do you write? A lot of people ignore the importance of having a good writing environment to help you stay relaxed and focused during the grueling writing process. On the other hand, some people feel a good writing environment has to be an already established learning setting, e.g. a library or study hall. I’m here to inform you that having a good writing environment is important and can be created by you to cater to all your comfort and learning needs. When creating a good learning environment you should consider:



Location: What place works best for you? Some people may enjoy writing outside, where the sounds of nature can calm them and allow for maximum focus, while some like to be in coffee shops where the white noise of chit chat and coffee beans grinding helps them stay sane. It all depends on the type of person you are. I personally like to be locked away in my dorm room listening to classical music when I write. Tip: Try to find a place that isn’t cluttered and has good lighting.

Time of Day: Are you a morning person or are do you struggle getting out of bed at anytime before noon like me? You should chose to write during a time of day when you have the most energy and are the most productive. Whether that is at 8am with a cup of Folgers’ or at 11pm with a hot pub meal, find what works best for you.



Company: Who can be around you that won’t distract you from your task? Having your best friend around who will talk to you for hours about last night’s game and Scandal is probably not the best person to have around while you are working. However, if your same best friend has an assignment due too, having them working around you may motivate you. Other people may find that being completely alone works best which is also completely fine.


Comfort: Have a favorite snack or a lucky sweater? Have them around when you start writing. Comfort is the most essential element of a good writing environment. Bundle up in your room, go outside in your PJ’s, do whatever it takes to be comfortable when you are writing. I always make sure that I have snacks and water at hand whenever I start to write.

snuggieSo now that you have your own perfect writing environment it’s time to write. It’s time to put your nose to the grindstone and craft the best piece of writing you have ever done. Wear your snuggie with pride and get to work!


-Duane, peer tutor

Creative Writing and College Writing

Creative writing is unappreciated by many students in college. This is mainly because of the notion that every college paper must be formal and professional, but it also has to do with the lack of exposure of the students to this type of writing. Although this is indeed a true fact, creative writing can influence and enhance formal writing in many ways.

Here are 6 ways in which creative writing can help you with college writing.

Number 1: Creative writing helps you understand other people’s writing. When you read other people’s creative writing, you are in fact exposing yourself to someone else’s ideas. The only difference between creative writing and professional writing is that in professional writing, the author gives you the facts as they are, whereas a creative writing author would conceal the meaning of his or her writing in metaphors, similes, and such. Thus, if you are quite good at understanding the message behind creative writing, you will definitely understand what an author tries to convey in his or her formal writing.

Number 2: Creative writing helps you expand your vocabulary. Whenever you read creative writing, you always stumble across a word you don’t know the meaning of. These occasional obstacles allow you to enrich your vocabulary. It also helps you understand the relevance and strength of a word over another. This, in the end, gives you more credibility as a writer.

(image from )

Number 3: Creative writing helps you with organization. Believe or not, creative writing can be a powerful tool when it comes to organization in college writing. This is because in creative writing, as well as in college writing, there is an internal structure that supports the writing. It is true that when you write creatively you have more flexibility in the structure, but this flexibility allows you to experiment with different ways in which content can be organized. Writers who compose creative writing tend to have a better sense of organization of content due to their experience with manipulating content in creative prose and poetry. By writing creatively, they learn the do’s and don’ts of organization.

Number 4: Creative writing allows you to find your style. This is very important for any writer since the style with which you write is what makes you different from other writers. Reading or writing creative writing helps you find what style is more comfortable for you. Perhaps you find yourself liking short sentences over long sentences, or perhaps you prefer using descriptive adjectives or adverbs to embellish your writing. Whatever the case is, this is what makes your writing different from the rest, and professors value diversity.

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Number 5: Creative writing allows you to write interestingly. This can come in handy when you have an assignment that, by nature, is boring. Creative writing provides you with the tools to make a dull piece of writing into something pleasant to read. Some of the tools that creative writing gives you are the use of literary techniques, such as metaphors and similes, which can help you make the topic of your writing more interesting to read.

Number 6: Creative writing allows you to view and understand a topic from different points of view. One of the main characteristics of creative writing is its ability to explore issues from different points of view. This can be helpful in assignments where you must explore both sides of an issue, since creative writing provides you with the tools to present an idea or topic from different perspectives.

If you are inexperienced with creative writing but would love to get acquainted with it, you should join Contrast Magazine–the literary magazine at McDaniel–and their writing workshops offered throughout the fall semester. To get in contact with Contrast, you can email at

And come see me with your creative writing. I love to read it all!

Jimmy, peer tutor

Keep That Noodle Happy

Something about writing papers (or blog posts) makes me hungry. Maybe it’s a lot of work that tells my brain “Hey! It’s time for chocolate now!” Or maybe it’s because I have a few favorite go-to foods for writing.

Maybe you’re thinking: Why should I eat something when I write? Eating healthy food gives your brain some hard-earned fuel to keep going. Have three exams in the morning and two papers due? Grab a bite to eat!


(image from Pinoy Alert!)

As a student with a lot of dietary restrictions (I’m vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and essentially processed foods-free) it can be difficult to find things to eat that taste good and make you feel good. I’ve developed a list that should be neutral in terms of dietary restrictions so hopefully, anybody can find something they like and can add into their diet.

Here are my top 7 writing-worthy foods to snack on while typing (or scribbling) away:

1. Water. This may seem like a no-brainer, but because our brains are mostly water, they do crave more H2O to keep functioning. If nothing else, add more water and less soda, juice, even coffee to your day to help your brain out. Keep a bottle of water nearby as you’re writing and remember to drink it throughout the day.

2. Green tea. If you aren’t a huge fan of plain water, try some green tea. It’s caffeinated, which helps us stay alert, but it also has a chemical called l-theanine that affects how caffeine is absorbed. I’m not a science major, but I believe that it aids in releasing caffeine more slowly which keeps you from the caffeine crash. Sounds good to me. (Note: moderate amounts of coffee will have the same caffeine effect for alertness, but not the same anti-caffeine-crash effect. Sorry, coffee lovers.)


(image from Mark’s Daily Apple)

3. Dark chocolate. Okay, so I must admit that I’m a bit of a chocoholic. Any kind of chocolate (or chocolate something) screams my name. What’s great for the chocolate-lovers out there is that dark chocolate has been scientifically proven to help brain function. If you happen to love chocolate like me, then head straight to the dark chocolate section. Note to vegans: check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain milk. If it’s truly dark chocolate, then it shouldn’t have anything else besides the usual ingredients without milk or any animal product derivatives. Always double check to make sure. (Milk chocolate and white chocolate won’t give you the antioxidants that are so beneficial in dark chocolate.)

 4. Blueberries. As we’re mentioning the importance of antioxidants for brain health, blueberries are an awesome addition to the snack food repertoire. Numerous studies have been conducted on the benefits of blueberries, due to their high concentration of antioxidants, so be sure to pick some up next time you’re snack shopping. (Bonus points: dark chocolate-covered blueberries!)

5. Avocados. I am by no means a huge avocado fan. In fact, I don’t like them except in non-avocado-ey guacamole. (Pathetic, I know.) But, I did read that avocados stimulate blood flow: perfect for getting blood cells into the brain to aid in productivity. That may be just enough to get me to start eating avocados…but maybe not.

6. Walnuts. If you’re nut-free, then skip to #7. Walnuts can reverse brain aging, according to a study cited on this site. They also have those lovely antioxidants I mentioned in #3 and #4.

7. Dark green, leafy vegetables. Add some spinach and kale to your diet: not only are they all-around superfoods, but they have brain-boosting properties like increasing cognitive function and information flow.

Remember, junk food is not the best option for your brain. It will certainly help with supporting your blood sugar, but the fat and carb contents may not be the best option for optimal brain function.

Okay, you say, that’s great. But I don’t want to eat raw spinach by itself. What do I do with these foods?

If you’re able to prepare your own meals, then try making a salad with spinach, walnuts, fresh avocadoes, and blueberries.

If you’re on a meal plan, see if it’s possible to integrate more of these foods into your daily diet to boost your brainpower.

If you’re tight on time, grab some water, green tea, dark chocolate if you can, and get to work!

Keep your brain (and your grades) happy. Coursework keeps it limber, but it can only stay limber if it’s happy. Treat it well and you will reap the benefits of a healthy diet.

P.S. If you’re now hungry, then I do apologize. But that means you can try out these brain foods!

(Disclaimer: I am by no means a medical professional or nutritionist. Do your own research, be wise about what to include or not include in your diet, and if you have any concerns, contact a medical professional.)

For more information, check out these websites:

Emily- peer tutor

Where To Write on Campus

Maybe you write best in absolute silence. Maybe you need the soft buzz of life going on around you. You might find that the best sentences pour from you once you turn on some Frank Sinatra or One Direction. Perhaps all you really need to be inspired is the scent of the fresh air rushing through the grass.

The importance of place when one sets out to write is paramount. Ernest Hemingway needed to write standing up. Rumor has it that Ben Franklin wrote from the bathtub. Jane Austen preferred to write amidst the daily routine of her family. E. B. White sought the comfort of a cabin by the shore. And I find that my best work comes when I lay on my stomach on the floor.

Every writer, and yes, you are a writer, has his or her own quirks when it comes to finding a place that works with writing energy. As a junior now at McDaniel, I’ve been able to try out a few places around campus and have found some of the best writing places for those with different writing atmospheric needs. My hope is that this brief list will help both the new students coming into a new environment at McDaniel and those still searching for their sweet spot around campus.


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The Library
• Clever, Shannon, the library is an obvious place to mention first. But seriously, I bet you might be able to find a place in the library that works for you. Hoover Library has undergone some serious renovation and refurnishing that has made all types of spaces available for students. Whether you need the silent floor, the group study tables, an individual desk, or one of the comfy chairs on the side rooms on the second floor in the front, you’ll find a nice place amongst the shelves. I recommend that you take a walk through the library and explore every nook and cranny like I did, and now I know my perfect library spot—which is mine and mine only…

Casey’s Corner
• Casey’s Corner is a wonderful place for those who need a soft buzz in the background while they write. The colors are cozy, the seating options vary, and the place always smells like delicious, warm coffee (if you like that sort of scent, like I do). Casey’s Corner also offers a convenient and tasty writing break opportunity so that you can reenergize and refocus with a coffee or big cookie stimulation if you work best with a yummy bite.


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Hill, Lewis, Merritt Classrooms
• Even though the late night classroom use policy has changed, you can still find a classroom to work in for a couple hours before the buildings close for the night. Sometimes I like to work in the classrooms on the second floor of Hill (because I love the English dept. to pieces :] ) which provide enough space to spread out and write while on the floor, or you can use the big desk if you’d like. The classrooms are conducive to writing because they don’t have too many distractions which means you’re usually left alone and can focus much better.

Little Baker
• You might think this is an odd choice, but sometimes when I really just need to get away from it all, I like to take a little walk over to Little Baker, laptop in tow, and sit down for a couple of hours to write. I have found that Little Baker has a very peaceful and beautiful atmosphere that might be helpful for those of you that stress out while writing. Take a breather, look at the beauty of the stained glass, and return to that paper with a calmer demeanor.

Harvey Stone Park
• Depending on the weather, Harvey Stone is a great place to write for those of you who need to be outdoors. Harvey Stone is the pavilion located behind the baseball field, down the little gravel hillside pathway, and bumped up against the golf course. You might find the quiet you are looking for here with a little bit of nature cheering you on as you type.


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• I know a lot of athletes who like to write in the lobby of Gill where they can have the background stimulation of the tv’s, passersby, and the all encompassing aroma of Vocelli’s. A lot of athletes feel comfortable working and writing here because they spend so much time there for their extracurricular athletic activities and training. This might be your spot if you need some movement around you or would like to feel comfortable in a spot that feels just like your second home.

Create Your Own Unique Spot
• So this is my clever way of wrapping up my modest list. But this one might be the most important. Maybe your dorm room or common room is the best place. I’ve never been to your room, but maybe you have a poster of Brittany Spears or Ganesh from which you find the source of your most brilliant of thoughts. Or maybe you’re like me and you find some spot that only works for you—for example, I go down to the pool. As a swimmer, I’ve found that writing at the pool is like coming home, and that is perfect for me to generate some stellar paragraphs.

I hope this list has at least sparked some thought about where you need to be to write at your best. Sometimes it is surprising just how much of an effect your surroundings have on your work, and those surroundings might need to change depending on even your mood or the type of writing you need to do. You might find that you can do your English papers in the comfort of your room, but gosh darn you just need to go to a classroom to do your Chemistry lab report. Do a little writer-soul-searching and take a walk around campus, try out some new spots. You never know where you might end up and what you can do when you find that perfect place of your writing dreams.

Shannon- peer tutor

Tips for Non-Native speakers

English is a language of idiosyncrasies, a Germanic language with Latin grammar rules forced upon it (thanks to its French influence in the early Medieval era.) Even native speakers themselves can only master so much of what is considered Standard English and the various contradictory rules with its use.

As a tutor in the Writing Center, I see some common errors with non-native speakers. Here are some tips for the errors I see:

Subject/verb agreement: the subject of a sentence can be singular or plural, and the verb must match accordingly (this is referred to grammatically as “number.”) For instance:

The dog [singular noun] plays [singular verb] in the yard.
The dogs [plural noun] play [plural verb] in the yard.

If your native language also has nouns and verbs reflect number, try connecting English examples to ones in your mother language. For example, Spanish:

La mujer baila. Mujer is singular, as is baila.
Las mujeres bailan. Because mujeres is plural, so is the verb, bailan.

The best trick for memorizing this is repetition. Practice makes perfect: it’s a cliché for a reason.

Other verb forms: When the verb of a sentence is more than two words, I often see a lack of necessary inflection (inflection in English is a suffix which indicates various grammatical aspects of a verb, from tense [present, future, etc] to mood [indicative or subjunctive], to the as previously mentioned number [singular or plural.]) When using the passive voice, the verb of the sentence will be the conjugated form of to be + the main verb stem + the inflection of the past participle. For regular verbs, this will end in –ed. For instance:

The ball was kicked by me.

I often find non-native speakers drop the inflection and write “The ball is kick by me.”

Incorrect: The film is see by me.
Correct: The film is seen by me. (The verb ‘see’ does not follow the regular convention of –ed endings.)

Incorrect: The speech will be hear by the McDaniel community.
Correct: The speech will be heard by the McDaniel community.

Incorrect: The food from Glar was eat by unhappy students.
Correct: The food from Glar was eaten by unhappy students.

Spelling errors: Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for English spelling. Even the ubiquitous “I before E except after C, or when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh” has more words that don’t follow the rules than those that do. Weird.

Use a dictionary when writing a word in an essay you are unlikely to use often. With words that you use often, but find yourself consistently tripping up, practice is the key to eventual learning and memorization. Write the word correctly down over and over and over again until it sticks in your head. Say it phonetically in your mind whenever you write it, to help memorize the letters.

Being multilingual is admirable. Languages are so complex and fascinating, I always find myself wanting to learn more. There is no shame in making mistakes in a second or third (or fourth, or fifth, etc.) language – or even a mother tongue. Mistakes happen. Hopefully the Writing Center can help!

-Summer, peer tutor

Getting Down with the Beatles

Stuck in a creative rut? Collapsing under the weight of seemingly endless papers? Or are you simply wondering how music can relate to writing? Here’s what you can learn from one of the best (song)writing duos of all time, former Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney.


When given a writing assignment, allow yourself some space for reflection, if you have the luxury. It took John Lennon several weeks to draft I am the Walrus before he found his muse.

“I had just these two lines on the typewriter,” he said,” and then about two weeks later I ran through and wrote another two lines, and then when I saw something after about four lines I just knocked the rest of it off. Then I had the whole verse or verse and a half and then sang it.”

Even for world-renowned writers, sometimes inspiration will hit when you least expect it. Keep an open mind.

Bounce ideas off of someone! Your roommate, your professor, your friends… you never know what someone else has to contribute. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote songs together for over ten years, and they’d tell one another when something worked and when it needed to be changed. John said once that Paul’s musicality really impacted his own songwriting, and in return, John helped Paul lyrically:

“[Paul would] say, ‘Well, why don’t you change that there? You’ve done that note 50 times in the song.’ You know, I’ll grab a note and ram it home. Then again, I’d be the one to figure out where to go with a song… a story that Paul would start.”

And Paul still works with John: the bassist recently said that when he finds himself with writers’ block, he tries to imagine what John Lennon would do:

“If I’m at a point where I go, ‘I’m not sure about this,’ I’ll throw it across the room to John. He’ll say, ‘You can’t go there, man.’ And I’ll say, ‘You’re quite right. How about this?’ ‘Yeah, that’s better.’ We’ll have a conversation. I don’t want to lose that.”

So have a discussion—even with someone imaginary—whose opinion you respect.

Look to your prior work in your discipline for inspiration and encouragement.

“It’s funny,” John once said, “because while we’re recording we’re all aware and listening to our old records and we say, we’ll do one like The Word– make it like that – it never does turn out like that, but we’re always comparing and talking about the old albums – just checking up, what is it? like swatting up for the exam – just listening to everything.”

It’s important to review your past papers—you might get a sense of accomplishment in addition to some new ideas.

Accept that sometimes, some papers will be less interesting than others, and you might not feel proud of them. John Lennon experienced the same with particular songs:

“Good Morning, Good Morning, I was never proud of it. I just knocked it off to do a song.”

There will always be other papers. Just do your best!

John said,

“In the early days, we’d take things out for being banal, clichés, even chords we wouldn’t use because we thought they were clichés… going right back to the basics [has been a great release for all of us.] Like on Revolution I’m playing the guitar and I haven’t improved since I was last playing. But I dug it. It sounds the way I wanted it to sound.”

Have confidence in what you know. Don’t try to beef up your writing with unnecessary clichés or complex words that you wouldn’t normally use. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to improve, but sometimes the best writing comes from you and you alone.

This is perhaps most important. John once said of The Beatles early days, “We knew what we wanted to be, but we didn’t know how to do it, in the studio. We didn’t have the knowledge or experience.” It sounds cliché, but it takes time to write well. Keep trying. The Writing Center has got your back. \m/


Read More: Paul McCartney Still Gets Songwriting Advice From John Lennon 

Read more: John Lennon interview at Rolling Stone


-Sarah C, peer tutor

Here’s How to Deal with that Twenty Page Research Paper



Last week, I paged through each syllabus for my classes, looking for the page count for all of my papers. Chances are you’ve done the same. There’s always that feeling of joy when a paper that makes up big chunk of your grade is only five or so pages long. A short paper is not so bad, right? Then, on the flip side, there’s that feeling of complete helplessness when the minimum page requirement for a paper is ten pages or more. As I saw that I would be faced with more than one of those this semester, I began to panic. Here’s a list of tips I came up with that I plan on using to conquer my bajillion page papers:

  1. Start planning early. If you have an English essay about a particular book, start reading it now. If you have a research paper, start brainstorming a topic and head to the library. The beginning of the semester may feel hectic, but you have more time now than you will later on.
  2. Outline! Outline! Outline! It’s annoying, yes. BUT it will help you stay on track.
  3. Divide the paper up into smaller pieces. Your paper will feel much more manageable when you only work on a page or two at a time.
  4. Set up a schedule for working on your paper. If your paper is due in a month, commit to working on it at least two or three times a week until then.
  5. Just start writing. Remember that even if what you write at first isn’t very good, it’s better than nothing. You can always go back and make changes, but you have to start somewhere.
  6. If you have any questions about the expectations for your paper, ask your professor right away. It’s better to ask now than to realize that you’ve done something wrong and then have to start over again.
  7. Take a break if you need to. If you’re getting frustrated or overwhelmed, sometimes it’s best to walk away from the paper for a bit. Do something relaxing for a few minutes and then go back to the paper. Clearing your head will help more than you think.
  8. Make an appointment at the Writing Center. Or make several appointments with us. We’re here to help!

Photo on 9-8-14 at 3.16 PM

- Rebekah, peer tutor

Internships, fellowships, and scholar programs

Applications for internships, fellowships, and scholar programs often can feel intimidating Applications can feel arduous, extensive, and there is the chance that the long hours of dedication can seem futile. However, this is a detrimental way to look at applications and there are ways to help make the process less intimidating and more constructive. To complement the “Application Checklist” that many fellowships offer on their websites, here is my own checklist to follow before you begin your dream application:

  1. Go to information sessions. McDaniel is offering an increasing number of presentations with tips on how to complete applications. If you look at campus announcements or notice the posters in academic buildings, there is at least one session a month dedicated to revising a cover letter or filling out an application on a specific fellowship (such as the Fulbright Program or the Critical Language Scholarship). In addition to taking advantage of these McDaniel opportunities, many major programs offer webinars with valuable advice. These webinars are free information sessions presented by the very same people who will be looking at your application- sign up for these! You can ask questions through the webinar and the presenters often give tips that are unique to their application. Research your scholarship/fellowship as much as possible!
  2. Look for examples of successful applicants. Researching examples of successful essays or cover letters can help you take a first step in your application. Don’t plagiarize- this is wrong. However, it is interesting to look at the vast variety of essays and this might inspire you to find your essay topic. For example, when I had an annoying case of writer’s block, I read by friend’s essay about her trip to France and her memory of looking at the Eiffel Tower for the first time. This sparked my memory about my trip to Australia. My writer’s block was “unblocked” and I began to write my essay on my tete-a-tete with a random Australian on the street.
  3. Think outside the box- While the most famous programs such as the Truman Scholars Program or the Rhodes Scholarships are phenomenal, they are also extremely selective and competitive. If your dream is to be a Rhodes Scholar, I will not discourage you from applying. However, make sure to look at other opportunities that are less well known; they might even be better suited for your major and interests. I pride myself in my professional Googling skills and I have spent hours on a peace and conflict professional forum finding links to fellowships with a focus in this particular field. However, if you do not want to spend this amount of time and energy invested in online research, ask your professors for ideas. In addition, at McDaniel, the wonderful CEO Office spoils us. If you visit the amazing staff at the CEO, you will find that they have already completed the research for you (there is even a comprehensive book with a list of fellowships complete with deadlines and instructions). Capitalize on these resources.
  4. Visit the Writing Center! I might be a little biased, but the Writing Center is a fantastic place to visit for each step in the application process (and I hear the tutors are pretty cool). Whether you need help brainstorming essay topics or want one more pair of eyes to look over your final draft an hour before the application’s deadline, the Writing Center is always here for you. You may also want to politely ask professors, friends, and family look over your application in order to receive as much feedback as possible.
  5. Do it for the experience. Think of the application process as an experience; don’t be negative! This is an opportunity to talk about your favorite class or discuss the volunteering event where you stapled papers for a non-profit organization and interacted with the president of the organization while reaching for a whole punch. The applications do not have to be boring and even have the potential to be enjoyable. Even if you have difficulty enjoying the application, think of it as a learning experience. If you do not receive the scholarship or fellowship, you have essays and the experience for future applications. And who knows, maybe the next time you apply, you might surprise yourself.

-Leanna, peer tutor

Comma Get It!


Nameless Cardboard Robot

Robots love commas.

Commas aren’t some piece of punctuation meant to aggravate you. They can actually be used as rhetorical tools, meaning that you can use them to emphasize information. Commas can also help you add clarity to your writing so you don’t confuse your readers.

Commas separate, introduce, and show information. While comma rules aren’t completely rigid, there are some comma guidelines that you should be familiar with. Once you get to know these, you can begin to mess with them to suit your rhetorical needs.


There are four cases when you should really use commas:

1. To separate clausesCommas often separate an independent clause (a phrase that can stand alone as a sentence) from a dependent clause (a phrase that can’t stand alone).

  • When the robot was first built, he didn’t have any legs.

2. To separate parenthetical phrases. Parenthetical phrases interrupt other phrases or clauses, and contain extra information that could be removed from the sentence without changing the sentence’s core meaning.

  • The robot, which had no name, was created to guard and protect the Writing Center.

3. To separate introductory phrases. An introductory phrase is a phrase at the beginning of the sentence (usually a dependent clause) that provides background information for the main sentence.

  • While the robot was painted silver, he had a heart of gold.

4. To balance two independent clauses (with a coordinating conjunction). Two independent clauses can be two separate sentences, or can be combined into one sentence using a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, yet, for, nor, so).

  • Students loved the robot, for he was kind and generous.
  • The robot enjoyed getting to see the students, but he was always sad when the Writing Center closed for the night.
  • The tutors realized how lonely the robot was becoming, so they built him a robot dog to keep him company.


Even though there is a lot of flexibility in what ways you can use commas, there are also cases when you should avoid using them:

1. Don’t separate the verb from its subject or its object.

  • The robot, danced when no one was looking. → The robot danced when no one was looking. (The robot is the subject, danced is the verb.)
  • The robot walked, his robot dog. → The robot walked his robot dog. (Walked is the verb, his robot dog is the object.)

2. Don’t use a comma between an adjective and a noun.

  • The cardboard, robot was always eager to help students with their writing. → The cardboard robot was always eager to help students with their writing.

3. Don’t use a comma before the first item in a series.

  • The robot likes, gummy worms, break dancing, and paper cranes. → The robot likes gummy worms, break dancing, and paper cranes.

4. Don’t use a comma after a coordinating conjunction.

  • The robot was large yet, gentle. → The robot was large yet gentle. *OR* The robot was large, yet gentle.

Note: You can use a comma before the coordinating conjunction if you want, but you don’t have to, since the two clauses are not independent clauses. Whether or not you put a comma before the coordinating conjunction in cases like this will depend on how much you want to emphasize the piece after the conjunction.

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We hope this rundown of good and not-so-good uses of commas is helpful for you. If you have any more punctuation questions, feel free to stop by the Writing Center or schedule an appointment here.

We also hope that you’ll stop by and check out our new giant cardboard robot—he still needs a name and we would love your input!

-Annie and Sarah, peer tutors

The Young Knight of Writencentia

Once upon a time, in the mystical land of Writencentia, there lived a tall, handsome young knight, with flowing blond hair and striking blue eyes. Though brilliant of mind, he simply detested writing. This troubled him deeply–writing was a beloved past time throughout all of Writencentia, yet he struggled to enjoy writing. Whenever he sat down to put quill to scroll, he would freeze up in fear, as if an ice-breathing dragon had frozen him in a block of ice.

Try as he might, the young knight could not successfully put quill to scroll. (Image from

One afternoon, the young knight spoke of his troubles to one of his closest friends in all the land.

“I fear that I am unworthy, as I am unable to produce any writing of quality, and often, any writing at all,” he said solemnly. “It is if my mind hath put a curse upon itself. It leaves my parchment blank and my quills untouched.”

The knight’s friend nodded as he listened. He understood exactly what the young knight was going through. “I know of the problem that troubles you,” he said, “For I too have experienced the same curse.”

“Have you?” said the knight. “What ever did you do about it?” he said, his curiosity piquing.

“I journeyed to the center of the kingdom, where I went to the castle of Writencentia,” said the knight’s friend. “There, I was able to speak with a most bright and lovely princess, who helped me find ways to overcome my fear and hatred of writing.”

“Was it helpful?” asked the knight.

“Indeed, ‘twas,” said his friend. “‘Tis a journey most worthy of undertaking.”

The young knight traveled to Writencentia Castle in search of writing help. (Image from

The next day, the young knight journeyed to Writencentia Castle, and to his surprise, the trek was not difficult at all. Once at the castle, he was greeted by one of several princesses. With great friendliness and hospitality, she offered him tea, coffee, or cocoa before their discussion began. Feeling most welcomed, the prince accepted this offer, and then they went to work.

“What can I help you with today?” asked the princess, her kind brown eyes beaming.

The knight was bashful to begin talking, but he quickly convinced himself that he had nothing to fear. The kind princess was there to help him with his writing struggles, not to judge him or chide him.

“I’m afraid to say that I do not like writing,” said the knight. “For when I try to write, my mind and my wrist are most paralyzed.”

The princess looked at him with understanding. “Do you know what it is about writing that fills you with such fear?”

The knight took a moment to consider the question. What was it about writing that paralyzed him so?

“Well,” he began, “I think part of it is that I always want what I write to be written with perfection the moment I write it,” he said with a frown.

“I see,” said the princess, “And I can help.”

“Can you?” asked the knight.

“Why certainly!” she replied. “I want to encourage you to not let that fear keep you from writing, because your thoughts and ideas are important. If you do not try to put them on the page, written perfectly or not, those thoughts may fly away from you and you may not have them again. Try writing down what comes to mind without worrying about how pretty it sounds at first. Then, once you’ve finished writing down your ideas, you can revise how they are written so they sound more beautiful.”

The young knight was skeptical at first, but the princess offered to help him practice. She told him to write a story about a time when he was happy and encouraged him to not stop and think so hard about what he was trying to say but to let the ink flow from his quill. After a little bit of time, the prince had written something–at long last! Then, with the help of the princess, he read back through what he had written to make his writing more satisfactory to him.

Once their hour was up, the knight was prepared to leave Writencentia Castle feeling better about his writing and himself. The princess had armed him with the knowledge that when writing, he needed to be mindful of when his fears were holding him back so that he could tell himself to carry forward and stick quill to parchment–after all, he could always revise what he had written. The princess taught him that writing is a process much easier broken into steps.

“Thank you, kind princess, for all of the lessons you have given me today,” bowed the knight to his tutor.

“You’re very welcome,” she replied. “Feel free to come back anytime!”

“I most certainly will,” said the knight.

The young knight hopped onto his horse, waved good-bye to the princess, and traveled home with great confidence.


Does the young knight remind you of yourself? Do you not like writing because it’s intimidating or boring?

Fear not! Here at the Writing Center, our tutors are more than happy to help you identify what it is about writing you don’t like and offer you strategies to make the writing process more enjoyable for you.

Ready to start your quest? Book an appointment here, and embark on the path toward a happier, less stressful writing process.

—Annie, peer tutor


The Resume

It’s that time of year again: the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you’re sitting at your computer, furiously preparing those applications for summer jobs and internships.

Ah, the life of a college student. (source:

Job applications themselves tend to be straightforward. More often than not, the trouble arises when it comes time to talk about yourself in a formal way. That’s right: statistics show that resumes (and their partners-in-crime, cover letters) pose a challenge for 75% of the population.*
*Note: all statistics in this blog post are made up by the author.

So how do you overcome this? How do you present yourself in a way that will have companies begging you to work for them? Take a look at the tips below.

The Bulk
In any resume, you want to answer three main questions:

1. What have you done?
2. What are you doing?
3. What do you want to do? (This one is sometimes optional.)

To answer the first and second questions, you will want to list your educational qualifications as well as past jobs and volunteer positions you’ve held. You also want to describe your duties in these positions, in such a way that the qualities you’ve developed at these jobs shine through and say to your employer, “Hey, look at what I learned! I can bring this skill to your organization!”

Don’t do this. (source:

Resumes often contain an “objective statement” to answer the third question. This is a one-sentence statement about your goal for employment. It should express to your potential employer what you aim to accomplish in applying for this job. For example,

• Summer Camp Counselor: “To facilitate friendships and a love of learning in a stimulating camp environment.”

• Arts Administration: “Position with community-based arts organization involving public relations, marketing, and promoting performances and exhibits.”

• Computer Programming: “Programmer or systems analyst position using quantitative and mathematical training, with special interest in marketing and financial applications.”

As a wise former writing tutor once said, “Your objective is like the thesis statement of your resume.” So make it clear and make it stand out to your potential employer!

The Beauty
Resumes need to be beautiful (but sort of in the way that contemporary industrial architecture is beautiful).

The hard angles convey a sense of order, while the neutral tones suggest sophistication. (source:

Use the space in your resume, and use it wisely. Align similar information (such as dates of employment) along the same margin throughout the resume. Feel free to italicize, bold, and/or underline text to make it stand out. Lines can be used to separate different headings and categories. Don’t use templates, but do get ideas from other resumes on the web.

The Relevance
So you’re applying for a tech support job, but the only club you’re in is McDaniel’s Puppy Club—not exactly the most relevant extracurricular activity.


When is this little guy ever not relevant? (source:

However, this information can still be useful. If your resume has an area for activities, feel free to include those that demonstrate leadership. While you won’t be training a service dog in IT, most extracurricular activities show that you are a person who goes out of their way to do more than they’re required to do. They also give insight into your interests.

Are you wondering what else you should include? Executive positions in particular signal experience working with others and managing different aspects of an organization. Certifications, such as in CPR/First Aid or various software, also tend to help a resume. In any case, stick with listing specific activities and certifications—don’t just list generic traits like “dependable.”

The Last Piece of Advice
So you think you’ve got a good draft of a resume, but you’re hesitant in sending it off to an employer? Luckily there are a few extra resources for you to use on campus: The C.E.O. and The Writing Center!

The Center for Experience and Opportunity, located in the lower level of Rouzer, helps students with all aspects of career preparation (including resume writing)! They are the perfect people to look over your resume in conjunction with the Writing Center. Writing Center tutors who have experience writing their own resumes are available to look over YOUR resume as well. A second (or third, or fourth) pair of eyes looking over your resume, from professional and peer perspectives, can’t hurt! So go out there, type up a fierce resume, and get that job!

-Sarah, Peer Tutor

Presentation Nerves


Giving presentations is a part of almost every class we have in college. Back in high school, they were final assignments and cumulative experiences. But now, it’s entirely possible that you’re taking a class that requires multiple presentations through out the semester. Senior seminars may require giving a final presentation to an entire auditorium for half of your grade. Summer researchers must present to family, friends, and local press. Students doing independent research will probably present at a conference. And as an audience member and conference goer, I’ve seen some terrible presentations.

“But Cari, hold on a second,” you may be thinking. “I’ve done a ton of presentations. My presentation won’t be terrible!”

Sure, experience helps. But thinking that way is dangerous because every presentation you do is different. It’s for a different class, on a different topic, for a different audience. To handle those different classes, topics, and audiences, here’s a list of tips to help you prepare and present to the best of your abilities:

General Tips for Presenting (2-5 minute presentations)

  • Practice the presentation. An obvious tip, but practicing the presentation all the way through several times will help you establish a speech without notecards.
  • Find someone to practice with. Having an actual audience to make eye contact with is great practice.
  • Don’t rely on notecards. They take your eye contact away from the audience. It also makes it look like you didn’t practice (which you totally did!).
  •  Don’t read off the slides. It makes you seem unsure of yourself.
  • Keep eye contact on the audience. It makes you look engaged and confident in your knowledge of the topic. Look at a friend or the professor. Sometimes just picking a spot on the wall in the back can help.
  • Don’t announce that you’re nervous. Fake the confidence if you need to, but announcing nerves won’t improve your grade and could actually make you more nervous.
  • Take a breath between each slide, or section, to slow down. Often, students will talk very quickly during a presentation and the audience will miss an important point from your presentation.
  • Bring a timer. A watch, or a phone on silent, to help you keep track of your remaining time will help you pace yourself.
  • Keep your feet and hands still. Fidgeting or talking with your hands can be distracting to the audience.
  • Dress like a professional. Jeans and a t-shirt are not going to make a good impression. Go for business casual.
  • Ask for questions at the end. This may help boost time to meet the requirement.


Long presentations (5-10 minutes)

  • Practice in the room you will be presenting in. Normally, classrooms will be open at night and practicing in a similar setting will help calm nerves and retain memory.
  • Find a friend in the class to practice with. They may have feedback more relevant to the class or professor than a roommate with a different major.
  • Dress up in business attire. At this level, professionalism is probably going to have a factor on your grade.
  • Questions at this level or beyond may become complicated. Do your best to answer the questions as completely as possible, but do not make up any information or research.



Senior Seminars (15-30 minutes)

  • Bring water with you. Your throat will become dry and you coughing in the middle of the presentation doesn’t look good. You can also use water as a tactic to slow down.
  • Book the auditorium, or conference room, wherever you will present, to practice in. Practicing in the exact space will help your memory and calm your nerves. This is the link to reserve spaces:
  • Just log in with your McDaniel username and password and search for the building where the room is located.
  • Practice around the same time of day that you will be presenting. If you only practice at night but your presentation is at 8 am, you’re not as likely to remember everything than if you had practiced at 9 am.
  • If using a laser pointer, which is a great way to bring focus to certain bullets, hold the laser pointer gently in your hand and press your elbow to your side. This will help the pointer from shaking.
  • Plant a question or two with the audience. These questions should be relevant, of course, but should help show off how well acquainted you are with the topic.
  • Body language is critical at this level and beyond. Standing with a confident gait will help reduce distracting body movement and help get you into your groove of presenting.



Conference Presentations

  • Do not start talking at an observer if they are passing by. After they stop and look at your poster for 30 seconds, and then if they haven’t said anything, then ask if they have any questions. Let that be the beginning of the oral part of the presentation.
  • Prepare to see and hear experts and other students scrutinize your work. Professors like to ask questions that you won’t be able to answer or that require another level of understanding (e.g. a chemist may ask you a question about the chemical structure of a drug when you are presenting behavioral research). Again, do your best to answer the question with the knowledge you have, but these experts will know when you’re lying. It’s okay to admit you don’t know something.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You will probably be standing in front of your poster for several hours.
  • Make friends with the people with posters on either side of you. It can get pretty boring if no one is looking at your poster.
  • Mark ahead of time posters that you want to look at while the other poster sessions are going on.


Different Formats


  • Stay away from the fancy transitions. They’re distracting and unprofessional.
  • Only include a video if you know the link works. Test it on both Macs and Windows computers.
  • Use bullet points rather than full sentences. Treat these bullets like cues for you to complete the explanation.


  • Keep text large. You want someone standing three feet away to be able to read it.
  • Make sure graphics will be clear from several feet away as well.
  • References or Works Cited sections do not need to be as big as other text on the poster.
  • Again, use bullet points. Nothing is more off-putting than a poster covered with 10-point font.
  • Print the poster at least a week ahead of time. Color errors happen and no one wants a graph with pink and purple bars rather than red and blue bars.


  • Best suited for shorter presentations, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the technology. If your senior seminar is a Prezi, you’re not going to do well. Use Prezis if the presentation is 2-5 minutes.
  • Maintain professionalism when designing transitions. Getting your audience seasick will not get you any points.

If you’ve practiced your presentation, picked out your appropriate clothing, and thought about what you’re going to eat for breakfast, it’s time to go to sleep. Good luck, have faith in your practice, and relax. You’re going to do great!

~Cari, Peer Tutor

Practice for your Ultimate Competition

Being a student-athlete means that you have a busy schedule. In just one day, you juggle classes, multiple practices and training sessions, homework, and let’s not forget finding time to eat–you’ve got to fuel that body to keep operating at such high efficiency! The dedication and self-discipline you exercise in your athletic lifestyle and every time you suit up are tools that can also help you succeed in the classroom. Just as you practice every day for athletic improvement, you can think of the Writing Center as your practice arena to train towards ultimate success in your academics.



As a swimmer, I’m in the pool with my teammates three mornings a week before school, and two hours every afternoon during the week after classes. On my own, I’m also responsible for completing five hours a week of supplemental cardio and weight training work outside of the pool. I’m joined in the Writing Center by Amber, Lauren, Kelsey as fellow student-athlete-tutors who know what it takes to balance school work and sports. As athletes, we all have our own crazy workout schedules, but one thing sports teach us is time-management, as we wouldn’t be allowed to practice and compete if we didn’t make the grade.

Each year, the Athletics Department brings McDaniel’s student-athletes together for a meeting to reinforce the idea of NCAA Division III athletics as an organization that fosters academic excellence through intercollegiate athletic programs. This mission statement rings true as McDaniel has an exemplary student-athlete population, demonstrated by the 115 athletes named to the Dean’s List and the four students named to the Green and Gold Honor Roll for fall 2013.



As athletes, we see our goals and envision success through the hard work we know is necessary for victory. The same philosophy should hold true for our work in class. Emma Wingerd, junior member of the Women’s Basketball team, frequents the Writing Center and says that “As an athlete, it’s hard to make time to sit down and do these things outside of class, practice, and meals, but those one hour appointments were the best decision I ever made to become a more successful student-athlete.” Wingerd expressed that she was surprised by how helpful the tutors are, especially within one hour sessions, as she was able to come in with a broad topic and leave with a specific thesis and an outline. Writing Center tutors also help you tackle resumes, applications, and scholarship essays for further academic success. In another session, Wingerd brought in her unorganized resume: “I came in with everything and the kitchen sink and came out with a polished resume that I am proud to use to represent myself.”



Writing can pose a difficult challenge as we are always trying to improve ourselves as students and scholars. Just as we put in the effort on the field, track, and in the pool, we know that we need to put in the same level of intensity into our studies if we want to be successful in life and remain eligible to compete. The Writing Center tutors are more than eager to be your writing coaches to help you succeed in the classroom so that you can achieve your academic and athletic goals as Green Terror student-athletes.

-Shannon, peer tutor

Tips for Efficient Research and Note-Taking




Have you ever been overwhelmed when searching for sources for a paper? Do you wonder how to sort out which sources will be the most helpful? Are you worried that you won’t have enough time to take notes on everything?

Fear not, young writer! Your friends at the trusty Writing Center have some tips for you on how to do more efficient research and how to take better notes. This way, you can organize your information so it can be put into your research paper without much hassle and stress.

Research Tips



Be specific!

You’d be surprised at how many items come up in a search of something that may seem simple. Be as specific as possible when you are doing research online.

Use quotation marks.

If you use quotation marks in an online search, the database will search for that phrase in particular. For example, if you simply searched friendships among co-workers without quotations, you may find sources that use one or two of those keywords. BUT, if you search “friendships among co-workers,” you will be more likely to find a source with that exact phrasing.

Evaluate the source.

Is the article a scholarly, peer-reviewed article, or is it from a newspaper or magazine? You can narrow down the type of source you want when you search online. Also, if you’re using Google Scholar, it will tell you how many times that source has been cited in other works.

Don’t forget about the library!

The library is always a wonderful source for research. There are specific research librarians who are more than willing to help you find the sources you need. You can also use the multiple databases the library has to find scholarly sources. There is also a brand new feature on the library’s website this semester. Students who need help with finding sources can now engage in a live chat with librarians. How cool is that?!

Note-Taking Tips



Determine what information you need before you start.

Read your paper prompt and jot down a few ideas of information you think would be important to mention in your paper. This way, you’ll know what to look for as you’re reading through your sources.

Make a system.

Create your own way to take notes that best helps you organize the information. You could use bullet points for major headings and take notes on that section under that bullet point. Also, WRITE DOWN THE PAGE NUMBER! Every type of citation (MLA, APA, Chicago) requires a page number at some point. Save yourself some time and write down the page where you found the information so you don’t have to go back and look through an entire source for a sentence or two. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for a while and it helps TREMENDOUSLY.


Don’t write everything down word-for-word; try to paraphrase things into your own words so you can write similar ideas in your paper. If you find a direct quote that you might want to use, go ahead and copy it down verbatim (but make sure to label it as a direct quote so you remember).

If you use these tips the next time you have to write a research paper, it will make the process much smoother and organized. Good luck!



Check out these sources for more tips on research and note taking:

-Kelsey, Peer Tutor

Paper Cranes

You may have noticed the paper cranes hanging in the stairwell of Hill Hall and wondered why exactly they seem to be flying around students walking to and from class on busy weekdays. The cranes are, in fact, a new installation brought to you by the Writing Center tutors.



Paper cranes are a symbol of happiness, peace, and good luck, which is why we decided to hang them in the academic building. When you are rushing to class, make sure you stop and take a look at the exhibit and maybe it will bring you some peace in the middle of your busy day.

cranes_editIt is said that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish from a crane; we don’t know if we will ever reach a thousand, but we are having fun trying. The cranes are made of recycled pages from photography books and all of them were folded by the tutors at The Writing Center.

pages2_editThe exhibit is also about process; you can see the book pages with writing processes written on them hanging with the paper cranes as a reminder that you don’t get to an end product that you are proud of without putting in time and effort. Creating paper cranes requires focus and commitment. We all dedicated time to learning and mastering the art of origami cranes (which we folded out of re-purposed books) just like we try to dedicate the time that we spend working on an assignment in order to get the product that we want.

pages_editAt the Writing Center we are dedicated to helping students improve their own writing by providing guidance during the writing process. With focus and a clear mind, it is easy to achieve that final product that you know you are capable of!

-Lauren, peer tutor

Complex Sentences


I hate reading work by Ernest Hemingway. I find his use of short, staccato sentences to be choppier than the water in The Old Man and the Sea, and I often find myself wondering, “Would it have killed this man to write a complex sentence?” Sure, the grammar rules would have been a little more tricky, but it would have made English class my sophomore year of high school much more bearable.


That being said, here are some tips for writing complex sentences:

1)   Join less important sentences together.

This is usually done by joining different clauses together. There are two types of clauses that can serve this purpose: dependent and independent. A dependent clause, which does not include both a subject and a verb, does not need to be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma. Contrastingly, an independent clause contains both a subject and a verb, so it has to be joined to the sentence with a comma or a semi-colon.

“He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach.” (Hemingway)

The phrase “of the lions on the beach” is not a complete sentence, so it does not need to be joined to the rest of the sentence by a comma.

“He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. He never dreamed about the boy.” (Hemingway)

This block of text can be joined into a complex sentence because it consists of two independent clauses.

He dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach, yet he never dreamed about the boy.


2) Remember FANBOYS.








These coordinating conjunctions are easy tools for joining two independent clauses together. Below is an example of how complex sentences can give writing better flow.

Write drunk. Edit sober.

Authors should write drunk, but they should edit their work sober.

In the above sentence, the coordinating conjunction is bolded, and the subject and verb phrase of the independent clause are underlined.

**Please note that the writing tutors do not advocate doing your writing assignments while intoxicated. That is all Hemingway’s idea.**


3)   Vary the structure of your sentences.

Not all sentences that consist of two independent clauses need to use a comma and a coordinating conjunction. Semi-colons can also be useful.

“The fish moved steadily [as] they travelled slowly on the calm water. The other baits were still in the water but there was nothing to be done.” (Hemingway)

With a semi-colon, the sentences above could look like this.

The fish moved steadily as they travelled slowly on the calm water; the other baits were still in the water, but there was nothing to be done.”

Writing that does not contain too many simple sentences is the easiest to read. Using different types of sentence structures can help a writer to achieve better flow, and make sure that a reader does not zone out while reading like I did in sophomore year English.

-Michelle, peer tutor


Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 1952. Print.


Make Studying Interesting

So you drew the short stick. A chunk of your shift has been dedicated to something that involves entertaining a group (read: three, maybe four) freshman. Or maybe you and your friends are looking for a way to spice things up. Or you could be presenting and need a couple ideas. Whatever the reason, here is a list of activities to do or topics to keep in mind during your study session.

It’s Story Time

Round Robin is an old familiar game that can be easily used for a study break. All you need is a sheet of paper, a writing utensil of your choice, a couple of other people and a story topic. Playing is simple. The first player writes down a sentence then folds the sheet over, hiding said sentence, and passes the paper on to the next player. Lather, rinse, and repeat until your story is complete. Unfold and read aloud your handcrafted tale.

Exploding Hot Potato

Another game-like activity that can help you get in the studying mood. For this you should have some balloons and strips of paper. Each strip of paper will have a tip or a fact and be placed inside each balloon. It is easiest to have each balloon be themed, such as having a “Thesis” balloon or a “Brainstorming” balloon, all filled with tips/facts relating to that topic. Once your balloons are finished, it’s time to start popping. If you’ve ever played “Hot Potato” the concept is the same. Everyone sits in a circle and passes around the “potato” to a song until the music stops. It’s a lot like musical chairs but not really. Anyway, in the normal game whoever has the potato is out. In this version, whoever has the balloon has to pop it (protip: sitting on balloons is the easiest way) and then read the tips/facts inside.

Mind Munchies

Have a list of tips? A delicious way to help them stick is to set up a numbered list with a correlating set of numbered cookies. Just make sure you read the number before you eat the cookie.

Paper Stars

A little feel good study booster are encouraging paper stars. You can make them for yourself or for others. Just write a little inspirational blurb and fold, fold, fold. Actually maybe you should write on the star after you fold it.


Novel idea really. The easiest way to use flashcards is with prompts on one side and information on the other. Use them to quiz yourself or others.

Not a pair of shoes, SpongeBob, paraphrase!

Something that could always use a refresher is paraphrasing. What’s the difference between it and quoting? How do I do it? Is it an instrument? Does it violate the Honor Code? The answers to all these questions and more can be addressed quickly (perhaps in a game of exploding hot potato). Our own handy dandy worksheet has a section on it as does the wonderful Purdue OWL website.

Where’s the beef?

A lot of students run into the issue of having all of the information they need for a paper but being unable to reach the length requirement. Transitions and cohesiveness can be helpful; sometimes brevity results in a choppier essay with less information over all. You could also try an exercise with taking a sentence and adding as many details as possible, not to set this as the ideal but just to highlight that writers can add to skimpy sentences/paragraphs.

Stuck Before You Started

The first step into an essay is often the hardest. Of course there are handouts to help with this but more interactive processes might help more. You can have a list (maybe a list attached to a batch of cookies) of brainstorming questions writers should ask themselves before each paper. Or craft brainstorming dice where each side has a different technique.




Again, just to make sure everyone is on the same page, it doesn’t hurt to go over what these are. Or why you need one. And especially how to make one. Compare strong and weak theses or create one as a group.


Although we are supposed to read every page of every book and understand it entirely by ourselves, spark/cliff/thug notes can be extremely helpful in reading comprehension. This comprehension, gathered from summaries and major plot events, can be used to your advantage and as a starting point to spark further discussion and thought, not a source of plagiarism.  (Note: crashcourse is helpful for history, politics and science as well)

And with that in mind, Wikipedia, or rather the bibliographies on Wikipedia pages, are also another well of wisdom. If anyone does not know, please point them in the direction of the sources section of your local Wikipedia page. They are often prime places to find sources that’ll lead to other further information about a subject.

Break Time

The lovely games suggested in this post aren’t always feasible or practical for any student studying in their room. Be sure to give a few suggestions about the best way to utilize study breaks. There are squats, frantic dance breaks and power walks around the dorm. Remind people to switch topics and take breaks in between each batch of studying. Don’t forget study times and locations, important aspects of the studying process.

One Last Thing – don’t forget that the most important part of an study session is snacks. Lots of (healthy) snacks. And chocolate (tis brain food).

–by Melanie, peer tutor

My So-Called Subjunctive: Was vs. Were

Verbs in the English language can be infinitely tricky, what with our multitude of irregulars  and often misleading vowel combinations, but they can also be infinitely beautiful, conjugated in ways that convey shades of subtle meaning.

Just like rebellious teenagers, verbs can contain a lot of emotion and like to spend time pondering their place and purpose in the universe. The English subjunctive is a “mood” which communicates doubt, hope, wishfulness, or the hypothetical.

One of the most distinct forms of the subjunctive mood is in the difference between “was” and “were.”

Angela from My So-Called Life

Image courtesy:

This is Angela. She is in love with Jordan Catalano, but he does not know she exists. If she writes in her diary, which would be the correct way to describe her love for him?

“I wish I was dating Jordan Catalano,” vs. “I wish I were dating Jordan Catalano.”

Here, the correct choice would be “I wish I were dating Jordan Catalano.” Because Angela is not actually dating him, but merely wishes to be, were expresses the hypothetical nature of the situation – the doubt that it is a thing that actually exists.

“If I was dating Jordan Catalano, I would be happy,” vs. “If I were dating Jordan Catalano, I would be happy.”

Again, Angela is not actually dating Jordan Catalano, but is expressing the wish/doubt/uncertainty inherent in the statement. Imagine it this way: if we take out the “if” from the sentence, it leaves us with “I was dating Jordan Catalano.” Because Angela had never been dating him, the implication of was on its own is incorrect, and were is necessary instead.

However, was also has a specific purpose. Examine the following:

“If Angela was in love with Jordan Catalano, I would know,” vs. “If Angela were in love with Jordan Catalano, I would know.”

Because Angela actually is in love with Jordan– because the sentence is expressing something that is hypothetically true or implied to be hypothetically true, was would be appropriate. The use of were in the second example implies to the listener that the fact of Angela being in love with Jordan is doubtful, uncertain, or unlikely to become a possibility.

Although its conscious use has fallen somewhat out of fashion, the use of were instead of was still communicates an important element of the unknown and uncertain… much like the fate of Angela’s heart.

Andrea, peer tutor

Scoring That Perfect Internship

Boat rides on the Chesapeake Bay, picnics out on a dock, wooden boats and crab picking demonstrations. Sound like a weekend trip out to the Eastern Shore of Maryland? Not quite, but when your summer internship is something that you love, it may as well be a vacation.

This summer, I worked for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum as a communications and marketing intern. I got to do things that I love, like use social media, take pictures and video with professional equipment, and write for the museum’s magazine, all while spending most of my time outside and on the water. I got to produce videos for the website and talk to interesting people, like this video about the cultural influences of crabbing and the people who grew up around the Chesapeake:

But aside from all of the fun stuff that I got to do, I really did learn a lot about working in the professional world. With my internship, I had the freedom to come up with my own ideas, make them a reality, and then present them to my boss in the hopes that she would like them and use them as publicity for the museum. Through this process, I learned a lot about my own work from the feedback that my boss would give me, so I could go back and make improvements to the project I was working on.

It is great to get in the habit of taking your work to someone for review because they always have fresh ideas about how to make it better. If I made a video, I would take it to my boss afterwards and show her what I had done, always expecting feedback and new ideas for making it even better.

At The Writing Center, we can help you get used to this process of writing and editing; we’ll work with you to improve your skills so you can make your own work even more awesome. Having a tutor look at your paper or assignment is (almost) just like the process you will encounter in the professional world– except meeting with us is probably a little more fun and less nerve-racking.

Along with helping you get acquainted with this process, The Writing Center can also help you perfect your resume or application for scoring that perfect internship. You can make an appointment with a tutor who will help you make sure that all of your accomplishments are presented well in a resume that future employers will see.

If you are interested in finding an awesome summer internship, the Center for Experience and Opportunity (CEO) has resources to help you with that. You can check them out on or follow them on Twitter @McDanielCEO.

So don’t forget to make your appointment at The Writing Center to help develop your professional skills and to talk about the cool internships you are applying for!

Lauren, peer tutor

Trying to break out of a creative writing rut?

Today is the day. Years in the future, one of your loyal fans will edit your Wikipedia page to indicate that on this very date you began the short story, the memoir, or the poem that launched your wildly successful writing career. You’ve locked yourself in your room with a composition notebook and a pot of coffee; your pen is poised over the page. You begin to write.

But your ideas are mediocre, washed out, your sentence structure not reflective of the Pulitzer-worthy ideas floating in your brain. As time drags on, pages of the notebook are ripped out, your coffee grows cold, Reddit starts calling. You begin to consider dropping this whole writing thing and taking up underwater basket weaving as a hobby.



Before ditching your notebook or deleting the nonsensical Word document before you, take some time to regroup and conjure up some new inspiration. The blank page or unsatisfactory draft can be frustrating, but you can easily overcome them with a few strategies:

Get some sensory stimulation.
Sensory exploration can trigger memories or new ideas as well as help you to practice conveying sensory elements, so unlock that dorm room door and go exploring. Spend some time perusing the aisles of you’re a local grocery store or farmer’s market for interesting scents. Head to an antique mall and look at old postcards. Listen to music that is unfamiliar to you.

Imitate writing that you like.
When a passage really strikes you in a book or magazine, copy it down. Figure out how it works. Why do you like it? Is it the enjambment in your favorite poem, the series of clipped sentences in that New Yorker profile? Understanding what you appreciate about the writing of others will help to hone your own style and voice.

Also, keep in mind that even your favorite writers struggle with getting writing on the page. Check out Dave Eggers and Jonah Lehrer talking about the trope of the tortured writer and the concept of grit.

Make writing your habit.
How many days could you go without brushing your teeth? Try to make that how many days you would go without writing, i.e., none. There’s no need to fill an entire notebook each night, but getting something down on the page everyday will help to form discipline. The more you practice, the less often you’ll experience the dread of writer’s block.

Find a community of writers.
While creative writing is often deeply personal, meeting other writers can lead to an environment where you feel comfortable with exploring new ideas and getting feedback.
Here at McDaniel, you can connect with other writers through Contrast Literary Magazine. During the fall semester, we conduct bimonthly writing workshops so that our writers can gain inspiration for their submissions to the magazine, which is published each spring.

Workshop dates include:
October 10, 24
November 7, 21
December 5

Other dates to keep in mind:

Friday, October 25- Halloween-themed open mic night and s’mores from 8-10 in Ensor Lounge! Bring your favorite Poe poem or whatever you’ve been working on lately to read to an audience.

Sunday, October 27- Deadline for Contrast’s fall writing contest! We accept poetry and prose.
Prompt- The first line must be a question; the last line must be the answer.
Email submissions to

Interested in staying up to date with Contrast? Like our Facebook page:

-Amber, peer tutor