Gratitude Journaling: The Suitable Solution for Stressed Scholars

College is a stressful time! Young adults are thrown into a new environment, often many miles from their home and are required to become functionally independent. With the pressures of academic success, the milieu of social challenges, and the financial burden of college life, college is often the time when people first experience mental health distress.

Depression is a major issue among U.S. college students. A survey by the World Health Organization in 2018 found that major depression had a lifetime prevalence of 28.7 % among first-year American college students (Auerbach 2018).

There are numerous potential options for mental health treatment, including counseling, therapy, and psychiatric prescriptions; however, these options are often inaccessible to students due to affordability. Further, many students do not consider themselves to be distressed, but simply want to remove the excess baggage gained from college life so they can become more productive and happier individuals.

Luckily there is an option that is affordable, independent, and science-backed — journaling!

The term journal refers to a form of personal writing that expresses perceptions, experiences, dreams, and creativity from the perspective of the self. The word comes from the French root word “jour,” meaning day, and it is often used to depict a form of habitual daily writing and reflection (Haertl 2008).

Positive affect journaling (PAJ), also known as gratitude journaling, is one of the most common forms of journaling used within clinical settings. With this form of journaling, one must regularly identify positive aspects of their life that can be attributed to an external source or actions outside of their control (Weiner 1985). With short 15 minutes sessions, only 3 times a week, PAJ was “associated with decreased mental distress and increased well-being relative to baseline” in general medical patients after 12 weeks (Smyth 2018).

Similar benefits have been displayed within college students. A study on first-year undergraduate students found students “who engaged in 3 weeks of daily reflective gratitude journaling showed significant gains in gratitude, adjustment to college life, satisfaction with life and positive affect” (Isik 2017).

So how do you get Started?

First, you must choose whether to type or handwrite your journals. Typing is faster, and thus allows journalists’ thoughts to almost flow onto the page. Writing by hand is slower, and thus forces journalists to slow down their thoughts. By hand is often considered the better option, and an informal study indicated that handwritten journals are more insightful and further explores thoughts and attitudes. Besides, it can be fun to pick out what will package your positive prose.

Prompts for gratitude journaling can be found throughout the internet: examples include “What are you thankful for; What did someone else do for you?” (Smyth 2018). While the specific prompts do not matter, according to the American Psychological Association, “the most effective entries will include specific details about the person(s), event(s), or thing(s) for which you are grateful.” Additionally, one must make sure that they are journaling consistently with a set period for journaling sessions.

It is important to note that gratitude journaling is not a fix-all for mental health issues. If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency. Additional mental health information and resources can be found here.

Written by Dylan Hughes – Writing Center Tutor – Class of 2023


Auerbach, R. P., Mortier, P., Bruffaerts, R., Alonso, J., Benjet, C., Cuijpers, P., Demyttenaere, K., Ebert, D. D., Green, J. G., Hasking, P., Murray, E., Nock, M. K., Pinder-Amaker, S., Sampson, N. A., Stein, D. J., Vilagut, G., Zaslavsky, A. M., Kessler, R. C., & WHO WMH-ICS Collaborators. (2018). WHO World Mental Health Surveys International College Student Project: Prevalence and distribution of mental disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(7), 623–638.

Haertl, Kristine. Haertl, K. H. (2008). Journaling as an Assessment Tool in Mental Health Occupational Therapy. 2008.

Işık, Şerife, and Bengü Ergüner-Tekinalp. “The Effects of Gratitude Journaling on Turkish First Year College Students’ College Adjustment, Life Satisfaction and Positive Affect.” International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, vol. 39, no. 2, June 2017, pp. 164–75,

Smyth, Joshua M et al. “Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial.” JMIR mental health vol. 5,4 e11290. 10 Dec. 2018, doi:10.2196/11290

Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92, 548–573.

Tips for online classes

Courtesy of Pixabay user Alexandra_Koch

Due to covid-19, a lot of classes have switched to an online or hybrid format. These new online classes require incredible time management skills and willpower since we have to create our own schedules and build them around our asynchronous classes and homework.

Here are five tips for taking online classes:

  1. Set SMART goals. Since a lot of classes are online or hybrid, we have to do a lot of scheduling and goal setting on our own. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. Setting a broad, vague goal with no time limits that is too difficult to achieve will only make you feel unproductive despite how much work you actually get done. Set short term goals that can be completed in a day or week and set longer term goals that could take an entire session or semester. Also, try breaking bigger projects into smaller pieces. For example, if you have a big essay due at the end of the session, give yourself deadlines for when you would like to have the bibliography, outline, rough draft, etc. completed. This ensures that you are consistently working on smaller homework assignments and larger projects alike. It also allows you more time to visit the writing center for help!
  2. Set aside a dedicated space for studying and schoolwork. One of my biggest bad habits this semester is doing homework in my bed. This often results in two outcomes: 1. I fall asleep while I am doing my homework or 2. I have trouble falling asleep at night because my mind thinks that it is time to do homework. By setting aside a dedicated study space, such as your desk, dining room table, or favorite Adirondack chair in Red Square, you are letting your brain know that it is time to study and you are ready to take on the day.
  3. Figure out what works best for you. Are you a morning person? Get up early and use that time to study and take notes. More of a night owl? Get settled at your desk or dedicated study space after dinner to write out some discussion posts. Everyone thinks of time and how it should function differently, so do not be afraid to get creative and try different sleep schedules to see what works best for you. Also, consider what other preferences you might have. Are you better reading a textbook online or do you like having a tangible book? I really like having a physical copy of my syllabus so that I can cross off assignments as I complete them. I still printed out all of my syllabi, even for my online classes. Try different approaches and see what works best for you!
  4. Take breaks often. While taking online classes, it can be easy to realize that you’ve been sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. Get up, give your eyes a rest, and take a small break. Go outside, take a walk, and allow your mind to rest. We all deserve to “waste” time just for the sake of wasting it, and not all time has to be productive. However, if you have trouble justifying down time with yourself, it might be helpful to think of it in terms that these breaks will help you be more productive and ready to tackle the rest of your problems after you are more rested. Often times if we don’t take a break, our bodies will do it for us, and it won’t be in ways we like!
  5. Go easy on yourself. No one has had to do this before in the way that you have, and you are doing the best you can considering the circumstances! Living and learning amid a pandemic is difficult for all of us, and the typical stressors of college are multiplied because of this new reality. Remember that you are still human, and there are bound to be some errors along the way. Try to give yourself some grace during a difficult time and be sure to celebrate the mini victories.

Ciara | Fall 2020

Discussion Forum Etiquette

Courtesy of Pixabay user mohamed_hassan

In an era where classes have switched to an online format and most discussions are taking place via Blackboard, it is becoming increasingly important to have basic discussion forum etiquette. Here are five tips for writing an effective discussion post:

  1. Get there early! Sometimes, there is nothing worse than getting to the discussion board with a great idea only to discover that someone already put your thoughts into words. By posting early, you are showing that you are willing to take initiative, and you don’t have to worry so much about someone already stating your idea.
  2. If time permits, give yourself enough time to genuinely think about what you would like to say in your discussion post and why you think it is worth discussing. It is a lot more difficult to write something substantive if you do not even like or know enough about your own topic!
  3. Consider speaking your thoughts out loud before typing them. Not only does this better replicate an actual discussion, but it helps prevent you from typing things that are redundant or do not actually contribute to the conversation. Consider using the microphone feature and the notes app on your phone to dictate your thoughts to words.
  4. Back up your claims with evidence, examples, or scenarios from your own experience. Using outside sources shows that you care enough to conduct extra research and it helps make your argument more effective. It can also be beneficial to cite direct quotes from the textbook or other readings to exemplify that you read carefully and are making connections to the text.
  5. Responding to a classmate is also an important consideration for writing effective discussion posts. You have probably heard this from all of your professors before, but simply replying “Yeah, I totally agree!” is not an effective discussion response. When replying to a classmate, consider asking yourself how you can further the discussion. What aspects of the post do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Why do you like or dislike pieces of your classmates’ original posts?

Not-so-strong response:

            I totally agree. I like how you analyzed X. Good post!

Strong response:

            I really like how you talked about X, but have you considered Y? In my post, I mentioned something similar, but I also think Y is also important to take into consideration. The reading also mentions Z-how do you think that factors in?

Ciara | Fall 2020

How to Write a Science Paper

A lot of people think of the Writing Center as a place to take papers from your English class. But, as we’ve discussed in previous blogs, we can help with al kinds of assignments! Not only can we help you with your English essay, we have expertise in History papers, presentations, visual texts such as fliers, making videos, and much more.

We can even help you with writing a report for your biology, chemistry, or other science course. Check out Bryn’s Tips for Writing a Science Report and make an appointment with us today!

  1. Use separate section headers!

    1. Introduction or background

      1. State the need for your project
      2. Explain the past research and findings
      3. State the objectives of the project
      4. State and explain hypothesis (if one exists)
    2. Methods

      1. Explain, in detail, the experiment so that another may recreate it the same way
      2. Explain which materials and apparatus were used
      3. Explain what you measured and how, etc.
    3. Results

      1. Explicitly state the results of the experiment
    4. Discussion

      1. Explain why results are important and what they mean
      2. Explain whether or not the results support any hypothesis presented in the introduction
      3. Explain error with error analysis and how it affected results
    5. Future Research

      1. Where to go from here
      2. Next steps in experiment or next experiments to follow the previous one
  2. Check your tone!

    1. Be sure to use a professional and factual voice
    2. Be as concise as possible
    3. Refrain from “First… second…” listings and “story-like” or directional language
    4. Use past tense about findings and methods
    5. Use present tense for generalizations and future research/conclusion
  3. Share your equations!

    1. Separate line from text
    2. Numbered for reference
  4. Show graphs!

    1. Only post the relevant, final graphs
    2. Be sure to title the graph and label its axes

10 Tips for Successful Powerpoint Presentations

PowerPoints are the bane of many a student’s existence. They’re irritating, difficult to work with, and easy to tweak into an unreadable mess. The following ten tips should help, however, when approaching these sticky assignments.

  1. Go for a crisp, clean, professional look, not an artistic or messy one. This includes not having unnecessary pictures, ‘cute’ fonts, words in strange colors, and ‘fun’ elements such as incessant visual and audio effects. Go ahead and pick a nice-looking theme, but don’t overdo it.

    Image is of a popular meme, depicting a background of a cloudy grey sky and a clipart frog badly Photoshopped onto the right upper side. In red Papyrus font, text reads "graphic design is my passion"

    Don’t be this person. Use an appropriate font and images with transparent backgrounds—avoid the white box around images!


  2. Make everything possible to read. This means using easy-to-read fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, or  Georgia, making sure text has a strong contrast with the background, and using organizational tools like bullet points and numbered lists judiciously. Text needs to be large enough to read easily and pictures need to be relevant and easy to understand.

    Image depicts a graphic nightmare, with bright yellow text displaying a "On the rhetoric of Voltaire" and "bY eXAMPLE sTUDENT" in different fonts, both bright yellow on the gray background.

    Never do…basically any of this. Don’t use ‘cute’ fonts, yellow text, or even more than one font in your PowerPoint. Use contrast: cool colors in the background, like blue or gradient gray, go better with a little bit of text in a warm color, like red or plum.


  3. Limit text displayed on-screen. Try using the 7-7 rule: only 7 words on each line of each slide, and only 7 lines per slide. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but it does help to practice being concise and saving detailed information for the presenter to present vocally.

    Image is of a PowerPoint slide about Voltaire populated by three massive paragraphs of dark blue text.

    Holy walls of text, Batman!


  4. Use pictures—carefully. Pictures are a great addition to your PowerPoint, and some successful presentations only have text in the titles of their slides, but if you over-saturate your presentation with them they will soon lose their effectiveness. Only use relevant pictures, and be careful to ensure that they are either of good quality or are justified in not being so.

    Image depicts a sandwich with a hoagie roll, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and a peeled banana.

    This would be a bad image to use in a PowerPoint about non-Euclidean geometries, for example.


  5. Don’t make it too long or short. Practice your PowerPoint at least twice and time it. Try to aim for the average of the minimum and maximum presentation times–if you asked to have a 10-15 minute presentation, shoot for 12.5 minutes; if you are assigned a 30-45 minute presentation, try for 37.5 minutes. A presentation that is too short makes you look lazy, and a presentation that is too long bores the listener.

    Image depicts a screenshot of a PowerPoint slide display, showing slides 65-73.

    You almost certainly don’t ever need to see this. Too many slides!


  6. Don’t rush. Leave appropriate pauses between bullet points and slides, giving time for students to take notes and the audience to absorb, process, and respond to new information. Rushing through a presentation gives the impression that you hate presenting, and professors are sharks that feast on your discomfort.

    Image depicts an infographic stating "2FAST2FURIOUS".

    Not a good life OR writing motto.


  7. Delude yourself into displaying confidence. It is perfectly normal and fine to feel impeding doom at the very idea of having to make and give a presentation. However, acting confident by smiling, gesticulating, answering questions, and projecting your voice all give a good false impression that you are secure and confident in your PowerPoint, and thus help your audience enjoy and pay attention to your work.

    Image depicts a black-and-white image of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, using her gauntlets to deflect a bullet.

    Imagine yourself as Wonder Woman. Do her stance before every slide if you need to.


  8. Have a cheat sheet and practice off of it. Make a ‘cheat sheet’ of some sort, out of index cards or a typed outline, and practice giving the presentation by speaking from the sheet. This will help the presentation flow together better and alert you to changes you need to make to your PowerPoint.

    Image depicts an orange juice box with a cheat sheet carefully written and attached to its front.

    A creative way to use a cheat sheet. Retrieved from


  9. Present as if you are not a robot. This means that you cannot simply sit or awkwardly stand in front of the computer or class and read off of the slides. Instead, gesture, walk back and forth in front of the room, and elaborate on your points. Smile and nod at people, and address the audience as if they exist. Make your presentation pop with props and embedded videos and audio files. Please note that if you are, in fact, a robot, this is a great opportunity to infiltrate human society.

    Image depicts an adorable, awkward robot with a crooked smile and square body, looking to the right and down, with a displayed heart monitor and grabber/pincer hands.

    Don’t be this adorable robot. Be better than this adorable robot. Crush its adorable robot dreams into dust.


  10. Go to the Writing Center or otherwise get feedback on your PowerPoint. Go ahead and book an appointment with us today, here! We’re willing, able, and happy to help you with any kind of writing, including multimedia writing.

    Image depicts a screenshot of the McDaniel Writing Center homepage, with a login menu on the left.

    Log on and make an appointment today!

How to Actually Concentrate While Writing: 6 Tips from a Tutor

Focus! (on writing).

Let’s be honest, most of us tell ourselves we will definitely start writing at a certain time of the day, and by the time it comes, we find ourselves sitting in front of our computer, staring at a blank Word document (almost blank! It probably has our name on it and an earlier date so it looks like we started earlier than the night before it’s due). After a while, you find yourself writing, but soon enough you are checking Instagram, or texting, or doing anything remotely entertaining to distract you from your work. Sound familiar? So how do you remain focused once you’ve started? Here are some tips!


  • Find a good place to write. This may sound cheesy, but I can’t stress this enough. Find a place that’s conducive to writing for you. Some people get severely distracted in loud places, while some others can’t stand to sit in silence. Figure out what kind of person you are and find that place where you’ll be comfortable and feel like you can conquer anything.
  • Accept the fact that, yes, you could be doing something more fun, but this assignment needs to get done. Many times, merely knowing that we could be relaxing instead of doing work creates writer’s block, making it impossible to concentrate. Let go of the tension that those feelings are causing and accept the assignment as it is. You’re in college now, you will get through this assignment and many more, so accept it and get to writing!
  • Try not to think about how much you have left. I completely understand the feeling of dread you get when you look at how much you’ve written and it’s not even close to the page limit. Don’t get stuck! The more time you think about that, the less time you spend writing. Look at what you’ve written, give yourself a pat in the back for getting something done, and keep going!
  • Give yourself breaks. Let yourself get distracted for 5-10 minutes, but stick to a schedule. Write for a while, then give yourself a break. I know turning off your phone sounds like torture, and I know the urge to check all your social media grows by the minute, but if you stick to a schedule you are more likely to get stuff done. You can even use these shorts breaks as a reward. You go, you!
  • Get up! Ultimately, if your mind is wandering too much, go take a walk. Get some coffee or water, stretch your legs, and think about something else. By the time you come back to your computer, you are bound to feel recharged and have some fresh ideas.
  • Visit the Writing Center! Just saying, if you come see us, you’ll have little choice but to focus on your assignment—at least for that hour.

Sometimes writing is a struggle for all of us, and that’s okay. But learning how to concentrate on your writing will help you in the long run. It may not be easy at first, but I’m sure you’ll get there. Good luck!

Mirii Rep, Writing Center Tutor